The junior PRs reported having had one paper each that they found too difficult to understand in places but while other papers lacked clarity, they were not too difficult to decipher. Geraldine stated, “I have received a very small handful of papers where the quality of the writing is simply too poor to be able to understand properly.” While the interviews with these PRs cover only a small selection of all peer reviews, these responses suggest that reaching the review stage generally reflects positively on your clarity of your English.
Nevertheless, the PRs do experience frustration when papers are written in unclear English because it makes the paper automatically unsuitable for publication, and it could take some time for an EIL author to get better at writing in a foreign language, which is not likely something that can be remedied over the course of a peer review process (Stephen). Additionally, difficult English makes the PR feel that authors are wasting their time “because I have to struggle to understand what they are talking about” (Sara) and that poor writing, whether by NSEs or NNSEs, can obfuscate good research (Geraldine).
Judith added that if the style of writing is inappropriate for the journal, she questions why the paper has been submitted to the specific journal, and why the journal editor has sent it out for review. Nevertheless, if the content is good, the outcome in terms of the eventual acceptance of the paper will not really be affected (Judith), as poor English is not a valid reason to reject a paper, unless it is a revised manuscript, the English is particularly bad, and/or the authors refuse to have it edited by a native speaker. However, if the content is unclear because the English is poor, the paper has not presented its arguments clearly (Judith), and while authors do not have to possess absolute mastery of the English language, they must be able to write clearly and concisely (Stephen).
Geraldine summed this up by saying, “Poor quality of writing will detract from the quality of the paper and it would definitely need to be addressed, and therefore revisions would always be required in such a situation. However, the extent of the revisions will also depend on the quality of the research and the arguments contained in the paper as a whole.”