When English is not your first language

June 17, 2019

Written by guest blogger Jessica Mayra Ferreira.

For those whose English is not their first language, it might be a challenge to submit a manuscript and not receive the comment “needs to be reviewed by a native English speaker”. I have always considered myself as a fast learner when it comes to new languages and it wasn’t such a struggle for me to learn how to communicate in English. However, when I decided I wanted to work as a researcher starting by my Master’s degree in Brazil, I had no idea that writing well enough for scientific literature would be such a demanding task. I received the same comment above in most my manuscripts reviews, even though some of those manuscripts were previously reviewed by a native English speaker, which made the work frustrating and stressful at times.

Following, I will present five tips that I have gathered throughout my academic work and hopefully will help not only Brazilians but also other researchers worldwide to write well in their future works.

  1. Do not start a sentence with numbers. For example:

    “1156 women were included in the study.”

    Instead, use:

    “A total of 1156 women were included  in the study.”

  2. Avoid begging sentences with “the” – include it only when referring to something specific.

    “The computers are of enormous assistance in the scientific world.”

    Instead, write:

    “Computers are of enormous assistance in the scientific world.” (In this case, we are talking about computers in general, not specific ones.)

    “The research found that…” (In this case we are talking about a specific research and “the” is acceptable in the sentence.)

  3. Passive voice is well accepted and even encouraged in scientific literature:

    “The government has given little attention to the environment.”

    Instead, use:

    Little attention has been given to the environment by the government.”

  4. Do not use contractions such as “don’t” “aren’t”, “isn’t”, etc.:

    “Pregnant women shouldn’t smoke.”

    Instead, use:

    “Pregnant women should not smoke.”

  5. Avoid writing long sentences and try to simplify as much as possible.
    Instead of using “in order to”, use only “to”.

I believe an extra tip would be to practice a lot! The key to do anything perfectly, or as near to perfection as possible, is to practice. Try to read English articles as much as you can and pay attention to the way it was written. Make notes on what you think it is helpful and apply them in the next manuscript you will write. Trustingly, you will receive less comments that your work “needs to be reviewed by a native English speaker”.

Jessica Mayra Ferreira is a Physiotherapist graduated in 2009 at Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), Brazil, she specialized in Women’s Health, with emphasis in Human Reproduction and Human Sexual Health, she did her Masters and PhD in Health Science at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil. She was a visiting PhD student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2017 under the supervision of Dr. Lori Brotto. Her latest article in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, “Analysis of 16 years of calls and emails to the Options for Sexual Health ‘Sex Sense’ information and referral service,” is free to read for a limited time here.

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