‘Course I talks proper English!

In the last blog we addressed what we are looking for in our reviewers and spoke about an ability to time manage. In this post, we turn our attention to the criterion that states: excellent English language skills. What does this actually mean? The heading of this post suggests what it definitely doesn’t mean. I am not just alluding here to poor grammar, which the heading certainly has. I am also referring to the fact that, for reviewing, excellent English language skills do not refer to how well we can speak the language, rather to an excellent understanding of written, academic use of English.

Lingua franca

A lingua franca is a language that is used in common between speakers/writers of different languages. For better or worse, English still remains the lingua franca of academia. This is why, even though IAFOR is based in Japan, its journals are in English. Many of our writers are not English first language speakers: the same is true of many of our reviewers. While we always attempt to assist authors to publish, it is imperative that our reviewers understand what excellent academic writing in English looks like as they are being asked to critique submissions where grammar, punctuation and correct use of terminology is one of the criteria.

Written versus spoken English

Although I only speak English, I remember studying French (and doing quite badly at it) in school. In French there is a difference in spoken language between the formal (for example, comment allez vous?) and the informal (ça va?). The same is very much true in English with formal and informal ways of talking to people. These different forms can be termed different registers, and we use registers in context specific ways. In speaking English there is also laziness (for example, dropping the endings of words) as well as frequent use of contractions (don’t and we’re are just examples: there are many more).

In written English there are also different registers. How we write an email is just one simple example. To people I know I will start with ‘Hi’ and usually end with ‘cheers’ before my name. Formal emails are Dear …. and end ‘regards’ or ‘yours faithfully/sincerely’. In some written English abbreviations are fine, in other contexts they are not. Academic English is formal, abbreviations are not used, and correct grammar forms are adhered to.

Can you recognise good from bad?

To be a reviewer, it is important that you can recognise when grammar or spelling are wrong.

    • One of the most common errors in papers from those who use English as a second language is the incorrect or lack of use of the definite and indefinite articles (the, a, and an). A reviewer must be able to pick this up and advise a prospective author of the need to correct this, doing so in a helpful tone as it must be remembered that these articles are not always used in the author’s first language.
    • Do you realise that ‘should of’ is not the expansion of the abbreviation ‘should’ve’? Because spoken English is so slipshod at times, people are saying ‘should’ve’ for ‘should have’, but it sounds like ‘should of’.
    • Are you aware that ‘data’ are always plural and the word needs to carry the plural verb? (The singular is ‘datum’, but hardly ever used).

Be wary of over-categorising academic language

Academic language is generally described as formal, concise and impersonal. While the first two are reasonably universal, a reviewer has to beware thinking that papers cannot be personal with the use of ‘I’ or ‘we’. It is in this area that a reviewer needs a good grounding in the contexts of methodology. In a scientific paper there is rarely any use of personal pronouns. In the use of narrative methodology, this is perfectly acceptable.

How is your check list going so far?

In the last blog you were challenged to think about your time management skills. Did you tick this one as ‘Yes’? This time, think about how you will tick the check list on excellent English language skills. Another ‘Yes’? That’s great. Next time, we will be looking at a PhD or Masters in a relevant field. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Till next time,


Yvonne Masters
Executive Editor, IAFOR Journal of Education

Previous post in the series: "What it Means to be a Reviewer for a Journal"

JoE is an internationally reviewed and editorially independent interdisciplinary journal associated with IAFOR’s international conferences on education. Like all IAFOR publications, it is freely available to read online, and is free of publication fees for authors.

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