RESOURCE: How to use an editor to make your writing better

RESOURCE: How to use an editor to make your writing better

Here’s a useful infographic by Editage Insights which summarizes their article on “Most common reasons for journal rejection.” How can an editor help you avoid these problem issues?

From Editage Insights. 8 reasons journals reject manuscripts.

Nos. 1-3 are steps that are linked to your skills as a researcher. It is the meat of your work.

Nos. 4-6 are where you can benefit from the help of an editor. We’re talking about:

  • Poor writing and organization
  • Language and spelling issues
  • Poorly presented visual elements

It’s challenging enough when English is your primary language, but when English is your second, third, fourth, etc., language, these aspects can present serious hurdles.

Editors may also be able to help you with no. 7 (unintended plagiarism) and no. 8 (adherence to journal submission guidelines)⁠—but you will need to check with the specific editor if they are willing to take it on. It will require more time and effort from the editor, and likely a higher budget from you.

Why are writing and organization issues a problem?

In an ideal world, editors and peer reviewers would know that your writing skills, as a multi-language author, may not fully match your sophisticated research and analysis. They would try to judge your work and findings in isolation, divided from the limitations of the words.

Unfortunately, the reality is not so. Peer reviewers are not necessarily able to distinguish between critiquing the content versus the writing.1

That means that when your writing has flaws, peer reviewers may simply conclude that your research was also faulty.

What can you do? What can an editor do?

There are things you can do to avoid the pitfalls listed in the infographic. And an extra pair of eyes—whether it’s a helpful friend/colleague (with good English skills!) or a professional editor—can definitely help identify areas that need a bit more work.

No. 4 Poor writing and organization

▶ What you can do

  • Stick to the Intro-Methods-Results-Analysis-Conclusion format
  • Outline what you want to say before you begin writing. First, write the headings of your main content, then fill out each section in more detail.
  • In both overall structure and within each paragraph: State the main message –> explain/provide evidence why that is so. 2
  • Check that all headings/subheadings (and while you’re at it, all the tables/figures/artwork) are numbered/labelled correctly, use the same capitalization rules, and follow a consistent pattern.

▶ Where an editor can help you

  • Check that the manuscript’s organization is solid and that it follows journal-specific guidelines.
  • Make sure that the logic is convincing and point out/suggest areas to add/delete/reshuffle.

No. 5 Language and spelling issues

▶ What you can do3

  • Stick to simple language, use shorter words.
  • Break up long sentences.
  • Avoid jargon, don’t use acronyms/initialisms unless you absolutely MUST (think about your reader, please).
  • Run a spell check and use tools like Grammarly to help you catch possible errors.

▶ Where an editor can help you

  • Check that the language is correct in terms of syntax, grammar, spelling, etc.
  • Adjust the language so that the message is clear.

No. 6 Poorly presented visual elements

▶ What you can do

  • Start off the writing process by creating your visuals (figures, tables). Experts say that this will help you organize your thoughts and identify what key findings you want to convey.
  • Make sure that the visuals can stand alone. That means the title, labels, and notes give a reader all they need to understand the visual.
  • Make sure you have titled and labelled everything correctly and consistently. Don’t forget to put units.
  • Choose labels that would make sense to a non-technical reader. So, for example, don’t use the variable names that you used in your statistics; give them fully descriptive names.

▶ Where an editor can help you

  • Double-check the figure titles, numbering, labels.
  • Provide feedback on the visuals, point out what could be made clearer.

You can see that there is a lot you can already do to improve your manuscript.

And the more you do yourself, the less you will need to pay an editor, who could then focus on cleaning up any language issues and to double-check the other organizational points.

Please get in touch to explore whether we might be a good fit for your academic writing project. Let me know your requirements and questions via the contact form or email me at

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  1. Shashok, Karen. 2008. “Content and Communication: How Can Peer Review Provide Helpful Feedback about the Writing?” BMC Medical Research Methodology 8, no. 3.
  2. I talk about this in my post, TIPS for non-native English speakers on English academic writing
  3. Again, take a look at TIPS for non-native English speakers on English academic writing

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