Many international and multilingual authors think that translation is the final step before submitting for publication. However, they are not considering another vital step needed for success—line editing. Consider this example:

A physicist wrote up his applied research to submit for publication in a US journal. Having strong English language skills, he did his own writing and translating and sent it to the journal. However, it was returned with strong criticism from one reviewer. The physicist brought the paper and all reviewers’ comments to me. He was confused. He hoped that I, as a line editor specializing in academic writing by multilingual researchers, could decipher the critique and offer some suggestions.

It is well known that the academic publishing process is challenging. Add a language barrier, and it is even harder. Moreover, despite being an anonymous and blind process, peer reviewers have human biases and can react negatively to language choices and writing style.

In this post, I’ll explain how line editing differs from translating and why submitting a manuscript that’s only been translated and not edited can lead to misunderstanding and critique.

Translation vs. Editing

We have all typed a word or passage into an online translator like Google Translate or DeepL to express ourselves in another language. But have you ever reversed the translation and seen the original phrase change? 

A simple phrase translated back and forth from Spanish to English makes the point: “You stay at home.” I typed this Spanish sentence into Google Translate, “Se quedan en casa,” and “They stay at home,” appeared. When I changed “they” to “you” and reversed the translation, the Spanish version was now, “Te quedas en casa,” or “You [singular, informal] stay at home.” 

Weird translations occur because the AI has to make assumptions about the writer’s intent. The English language doesn’t distinguish between a formal versus informal, or plural versus singular “you.” Spanish does; hence, the inexact translation. 

A human translator, too, constantly makes predictions about intent when overlaying the context of one language’s structure onto another. No matter whether you are writing a conference paper, journal article, grant application, dissertation, or book manuscript, the primary goal is that your message is clear. You want the audience to understand your meaning in all of its complexity and subtlety without misunderstanding. 

Here is where a line editor’s expertise makes the difference. A line editor reads the piece with the reader in mind. Where a reader might experience confusion or misunderstanding due to translation choices, a line editor makes suggestions for clarity and precision. Later, a copyeditor will correct grammatical and mechanical errors. And, finally, a proofreader will review a print-ready piece once more before publication.

Your Audience Matters

By focusing on language choice and writing style, academic line editors improve writing that has been translated. One of the first questions I ask an author is where will the article be submitted? I want to know not only which journal or publisher, but in which geographical region. The answers help me to know who the intended audience is.

English language conventions differ across the globe and go beyond simple words used in one country and not another, like “queue” versus “line.” English language differences also include standards of tone and usage. A line editor will be on the lookout for words, phrases, and sentence structures that have not translated well. 

While the primary task of the translator is to convert ideas from one language into another, the line editor imagines how the audience will receive that text. In other words, is the author’s message being presented clearly, without causing confusion or misunderstanding for the reader? Some refer to this work as English checking, language smoothing, or localization, which is particularly helpful for ESL/EFL authors. 

What Does a Line Editor Do?

There are specific things a line editor will be looking for:

Indeed, an important overarching goal for the writer is to write with the reader in mind. “How will the reader receive this word, this sentence, this passage?” 

Not only does the writing need to be logical and compelling, but the writing style should also be varied enough to keep the reader’s attention, it should be clear enough to support reader understanding, and it should promote an inclusive mindset. 

Underneath it all is the task of carrying the reader along in a flow of words that avoid unintentional offense or misunderstanding.

The Importance of Editing for International Authors

The physicist of my story had unintentionally committed an error of meaning. He had correctly translated the word “quality” throughout the article to describe a material he was testing, which presented an obstacle to getting his paper published. In the comments, the very critical reviewer pointed out those passages and raised doubts about the rigor of the research. 

Was this peer reviewer reacting out of a bias against qualitative research methodology? I can’t be sure. However, since the other peer reviewers didn’t express similar objections, I suggested that a synonym might be substituted. 

Together we consulted a dictionary and weighed the options. He chose “integrity.” A short time later, he let me know that the article had been accepted for publication! It was a lesson and an affirmation for me that a perfectly acceptable word in translation is not always the best option in all contexts. And that is just one of many reasons why line editors help authors “put their best foot forward” to achieve writing and publishing goals!

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