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Nevorotin

Cellular Therapy and Transplantation (CTT), Vol. 1, No. 4

Please cite this article as follows: Nevorotin A. Research articles in English: what should be considered before submitting a manuscript. Cell Ther Transplant. 2010;1:e.000053.01. doi:10.3205/ctt-2010-en-000053.01

© The Author. This article is provided under the following license:
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
Submitted: 27 January 2009, accepted: 4 December 2009, published: 16 February 2010

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Research articles in English: what should be considered before submitting a manuscript

Alexey Nevorotin

I.P. Pavlov Medical University, St. Petersburg, Russia

Correspondence: Alexander Nevorotin, I.P. Pavlov Medical University, St. Petersburg, Russia, E-mail: anevorotin@spmu.rssi.ru

Summary

The author of this compact essay and also of a book on the same topic [1] has always realized that the successful submission of manuscripts to English–language journals invariably requires not only good English but also a high level of research and—in my compatriots’ view—a very special style in which the results should be presented. These prerequisites for successful submission are indispensable, because an editorial board will flatly reject as unreliable even the most interesting results if they are vague, poorly substantiated, and/or the manuscript is incomprehensible. In this study, these three pre-requisites—the level of the results, style of content presentation, and language—will be considered in relation to research articles (RA) intended for submission to English–language journals. Special attention will be paid to the clear differences—despite globalization—in mentalities between Russian scientists and those originating from English-speaking environments, which will both facilitate success and alleviate the sense of bitterness amongst Russian scientists in the case of refusal by encouraging the researcher to adopt the appropriate method in subsequent efforts. Regardless of nationality, the potential contributor to a given journal should clearly understand that when submitting an RA manuscript, the author must either adhere to the journal’s standards or not waste his/her efforts. As the Russian proverb states: “Nobody goes to another monastery with one's own charter.” For convenience, the term author will be used hereafter to denote either a single person, tandem authors, or a team of researchers united by the aim of submitting an RA manuscript—this one included—to an English–language journal.

Level of research

At first sight it seems evident that the decision of the editorial board to publish a given RA manuscript should rest primarily on the novelty of the data presented. This is the case for the majority of Russian researchers and also—most likely—for many Russian–language journals, for which novelty level is considered to be the key criterion for a manuscript’s fate. However, for English–language journals the purely phenomenological aspect of a study—particularly the introduction of a new finding—as well as the confirmation, alteration, or even complete re-evaluation of a well-known one may not prove to be the only merit to be taken into consideration; convincing evidence, documents, and the use of recognized techniques are also needed. Equally valuable is a clearly expressed interpretation of the facts and events in accordance with the system of previously documented data in the given science domain. Weak factual confirmation of new findings—which result from obsolete equipment—and insufficient, poorly arranged arguments—caused by the lack of domestic programs specialized in scientific language—are the most likely reasons why my compatriots’ studies in the fields of biology and medicine are so infrequently published in—with the exception of the Commonwealth of Independent States—foreign journals. When they are published, it is usually in collaboration with a team of foreign scientists as co-authors. An example of this preference for exclusive validity of methodical validation and theoretical interpretation might be apoptosis—programmed cell death. The phenomenon itself was introduced, understood on the whole, and named around three decade ago [2,3] with strong subsequent confirmation in thousands of papers. Nevertheless, the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to neither the pioneers nor their numerous followers, but solely to three outstanding researchers: Sydney Brenner, Robert Horvitz, and John Sulston. These three scientists succeeded in decoding the key features of the phenomenon at the molecular level, thus establishing its fundamental significance in a number of physiological and pathological processes. For a Russian scientist, such an outcome may seem unfair because of the apparent negligence of the right of priority that had dominated science for centuries. Today—due to increasingly tough competition, cases of mistakes and even forgeries—foreign journals—in spite of their deepest respect towards pioneers—take not only the priority of a new fact into consideration, but also its distinct parameters such as the power of verification and proper positioning within the circle of existing entities and beyond. At any rate, in both the leading—e.g. Nature, Science, PNAS—and less prestigious journals, an RA manuscript lacking solid factual proof and profound theoretical substantiation will most likely be rejected—with the utmost politeness—just after or even before peer reviewing. And one should not feel offended or—much worse—discriminated against. The fact is that no journal—with the tacit support of the majority of scientists abroad—would risk its reputation by issuing a product of mediocre quality. In other words, as far as science on the whole and RA manuscripts—in particular—are concerned, the better the refinement, the higher the price of the product. Just like in economy, there is a higher premium for efficiently processed materials as opposed to raw materials.  

Style

Here, this term denotes aspects such as specific sequence, relative volume, and the positioning of distinct content parts in a regular RA. In both Russian– and English–language foreign journals, the same sections of the RA are available with only their order varying. The practice of steady reading for many years permits me to draw a number of cautious conclusions concerning the major RA sections, emphasizing the characteristic features of the domestic and English–language models.

Title

Despite the heading—in both cases—invariably introducing RA contents on the whole, in Russian journals the title phrase can be excessively generalized and thereby vague due to such beginnings as “Certain peculiarities…” or “Clinical (biochemical, molecular biological) study (investigation, analysis) of…” Since each of the above items can include a host of variables, the reader may feel baffled as to the particular RA subject. In English–language titles such vagueness is not used. This allows a person to grasp not only the subject, but also the “zest” of the study. At this junction, a very efficient approach to the concise clarification of an RA’s contents by its title—used by about 15% English–language authors—appears to be the sub–division of the heading by the insertion of a colon—e.g., the subject of the study: the major conclusion and/or the author’s credo—or an interrogative form of the title—e.g., setting up the problem with the predictable solution. Furthermore, the humoristic elements and especially naturalistic and even risky turns [4-6] in the title of an RA is, to my opinion, more suitable for fiction rather than for topics of science. Despite genuine witticism of the vulgarity-free type [7], one can easily sacrifice these “garments” to follow the commonly accepted tradition of sheer clarity in an RA title without primitive tricks.

Introduction

This part of a typical English–language RA—apart from setting up the task, which Russian authors also do—incorporates the history of the problem, concisely and yet exhaustively scaled to the topic—a bit too laconic in the Russian case often due to space limitations for domestic journals—which is followed and finalized by а short—consisting only of a phrase or two —presentation of the main results. This approach has only been recently introduced into Russian articles but is sometimes clumsily applied. Having analyzed numerous papers in distinct areas of biology and medicine, I cannot help but derive the conclusion that English–language—unlike Russian–language published articles—offer educational possibilities, as well as the introduction of new findings. As a result, any researcher—or even a student with sufficient basic training—is able to understand a difficult and unfamiliar item, thus becoming more competent or at least intrigued by its novelty. How can such an effect be produced? Usually, the author begins the RA with a plain description of some well-studied—and thus comprehensible to the reader—data, which at first sight has a very distant relationship with the RA subject. The author then skillfully harmonizes and flavors the introduction with quotations before gradually concentrating on facts relevant to the problem in question, thus guiding the reader to the precise objective of the study. The brief conclusion reinforced by the mentioning of the technical aspect of the work not only shows its major achievement but also lets the potential reader determine whether the subject is worth further attention without having to look through the whole text. Therefore, it appears that a good RA should entail the roles of both presentation of new data and ideas plus the delivery of a mini-lecture, whereby the reader is assisted in the rapid absorption of knowledge, and the decision process regarding individual direction in further work. To my deepest regret, Russian authors—again presumably due to length restrictions—often make too steep a start, with the description of difficult—sometimes excessively sophisticated—concepts that are clear only to the authors themselves; naturally, this narrows the circle of readers and repels potential followers. Attempting such an approach for the submission of an RA to a foreign journal may result in either—luckily—severe criticism by peer reviewers, or—most likely—in refusal, with a not so subtle hint at incompetence.

Materials and methods. Results

These two sections in English–language journals are arranged and standardized so nicely that Russian authors face only one problem: to identify a particular prototype paper followed by inserting their data into the text in accordance with the selected template or templates. The authors’ concerns are to be free of suspicion that unsolicited borrowing had taken place. Its seems clear that the “happy ending” of such a strategy would equally depend on a worthwhile stock of RA-prototypes, the level of linguistic training in English, and the author in question’s morals.

Discussion

This part of the RA is by definition the most extensive section and also the most difficult one in the sense of both the author’s work and the reader’s comprehension. By rough estimates, the discussion in regular English–language papers may occupy as much as 40% of its whole length. However, in Russian journals—including the more respectable ones—that figure hardly exceeds 20%; subjects of interest are confined—as a rule—to short summarizing of the major findings, corroboration of the author’s accuracy and correctness, the use of rare quotations from other researchers with identical views—without mentioning dissident studies or their unrestrained criticism—which is all finalized by an optimistic conclusion that is invariably in favor of the author’s results and concepts. But where is the elaborate chain of the arguments—both for and against the author’s concept—with the acknowledgement of the imperfect techniques that were applied? Why are quotations so scarce in comparison to English–language RA manuscripts in which the discussion incorporates the vast majority of the references? And lastly, what prevents authors’—after disclosing their readiness for further work—from outlining future studies’ subsequent designs? Those able to overcome the weak points and bridge the gaps that this paper has considered, will undoubtedly see for themselves to what extent such efforts are justified by enjoying the success of having their RA manuscripts published in an English–language journal.  

The ideas raised and discussed here are done so with the sole intention of expressing my individual points of view, which may be supplemented, and—either partially or wholly—altered by a more skillful and shrewd follower dedicated not only to scientific work, but also to the methods of adequately presenting research in English–language journals. The above phrase—apart from its evident sense—is offered in an attempt to exemplify the ethical approach to RA manuscripts adopted by the advanced scientific community.

Translation

This paper makes five key recommendations concerning the strategy of translating an RA manuscript into English.

• The translator’s knowledge of English grammar—its verbal forms in particular—should not be below the level of one of the best textbooks [8]. The following website lists various books that may prove to be helpful: http://www.senglish.narod.ru/books.html.

• Apart from a substantial vocabulary—1500 words or more—specialized dictionaries—such as a medical dictionary—are necessary for a translator [9]. However, users may notice that such dictionaries can lack many contemporary words. Thus, it is advisable for the translator to initiate, compile and regularly replenish specific field reference notebooks.

• An even greater problem may be the lack of experience in correctly inserting key words into a given phrase or turn of phrase. If this is the case, the recently released Collins COBUILD dictionary on CD-ROM—which contains plenty of different phrases—might be the solution. Despite my own limited vocabulary [1], I found the manner in which topics are classified make searching for certain phrases or terms simple. Furthermore, I greatly approve of COBUILD 2003 and recommend its practical use due to its clear display of synonyms—subsequent editions have only succeeded in making the selection of synonyms a rather tedious procedure.

• A very effective approach in composing phrases and/or turns of phrase seems to be to search for other examples via the user’s files; each file contains 200–250 abstracts—or 2–3 MB—of English–language articles. Working with the Russian–language text, the person scans through the files by using the key English–language word—in conjunction with the Ctrl+F feature—until the most appropriate term or phrase is found. It is to be utilized by carefully adjusting and trimming the prototype into the final product. Two to three hundred full-length papers processed in the above manner can also be of great value.

• To what extent—if at all—can one rely upon a professional philologist as a potential translator of a Russian–language RA manuscript? Completely, provided the person has a high competence in both linguistics and the particular science the given text is dealing with. However, these two distinct skills rarely co-exist in a single individual. That is why the typical solution seems to be the more-or-less amateurish translation by a scientist—employing some of the DIY recommendations above—who is accustomed to regularly reading in English. It would then be the responsibility of a professional philologist to refine the text to a high-quality standard.

References

[References with links indicate that an article is available Open Access

1. Nevorotin AI. Matrichnuy frazeologicheskiy sbornik. Posobie po napisaniu nauchnoy stati na angliyskom yazuke. SPb, SpezLit. 2001. Russian.

2. Weedon D, Searle J, Kerr JF. Apoptosis. Its nature and implications for dermatopathology. Am J Dermatopathol. 1979;1(2):133-44. pmid: 44963.

3. Wyllie AH, Kerr JF, Currie AR. Cell death: the significance of apoptosis. Int Rev Cytol. 1980;68:251-306. pmid: 7014501.

5. Putney JW. “Kissin’ cousins”: intimate plasma membrane-ER interactions underlie capacitative calcium entry. Minireview. Cell. 1999;99:5-8.

8. Izrailevich EE, Kachalova KN. Prakticheskaya grammatika angliyskogo yazuka s uprazhneniyami i kluchami. SPb. Karo. 2007. 608 p. Russian.

9. Anglo-russkiy medizinskiy slovar (70000 terminov). 4-e izd., ster. Moskva. Russo. 2000. Russian.

© The Author. This article is provided under the following license:
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Please cite this article as follows: Nevorotin A. Research articles in English: what should be considered before submitting a manuscript. Cell Ther Transplant. 2010;1:e.000053.01. doi:10.3205/ctt-2010-en-000053.01

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