Friday, May 16, 2014

Ab,surd

A colleague recently shared a review of his (rejected) proposal. The most negative review contained this statement:
There were a number of editorial errors found throughout the proposal. Some were missing commas and the like,
The mind, like, boggles.

Now I need to know: have you ever
  • commented on punctuation in a review? (minor errors, egregious errors, pet peeves?) -- did it affect your overall rating of the proposal, as far as you know?
  • received a comment on punctuation in a review? (minor errors, egregious errors, pet peeves?)
And if there were punctuation, grammar, and/or spelling errors in a review that criticized you for real or perceived punctuation errors, how did you feel about that?

Did you think, "Oh well, the reviewer is just bashing out a review on a webform and of course shouldn't be held to their own high standards for punctuation in proposals. Perhaps that missing comma on page 10 of the proposal indicates that I am a sloppy and untransformative scientist and therefore didn't deserve a grant that would have supported student research."

Or did you think something a bit more negative about the reviewer's punctuated hypocrisy?




32 comments:

postdoc said...

oh yes, I have gotten comments for this too. I think minor errors are why we have copy editors;even if we proofread and have someone else do so, we're gonna miss some things. If it's not impacting your ability to understand it, let it go.

iGrrrl said...

Yes, I have seen such comments in review, although not usually about smaller comma errors. I know that when I encounter one typo, it's a typo, but when I encounter one or two per page, it's lack of attention to detail. Also, sometimes a comma in the right place makes a sentence easy to understand, and mean what you want it to mean. (Let's eat, Grandma! vs Let's eat Grandma!) Having to continually re-read sentences to figure out the meaning gets irritating.

And there is a rule, inviolate as Godwin's law, that any written comment on someone else's grammar or typos will contain a typo and/or grammatical error.

dr24hours said...

Perhaps it was meant ironically?

Sesh Nadathur said...

I'm not sure what is wrong with that sentence. Have you truncated it? Because if it continues after the comma it seems to be grammatically correct. If not then it contains a comma instead of a full stop (period, for Americans). These are adjacent keys on my keyboard.

Also if the sentence continues after the comma then it seems to be saying "some were missing commas and similar unimportant things, but ...". Which is perhaps a little harsh, but given that we don't know what followed, also possibly perfectly justified. Editorial errors, if sufficiently serious, can make a text essentially unreadable.

And in answer to the question, I have received comments on punctuation in a review. Mostly justified comments.

Alethea said...

I've gotten minor comments on manuscripts for punctuation (not affecting acceptance/rejection), but never in a grant.

I did recommend a complete resubmission of someone else's manuscript one time because it was written with such poor English as to be unintelligible. The writing was truly so bad that you couldn't evaluate the science because sentences would have no objects, or just make no sense so that you couldn't even tell what they were trying to say. It was written by a non-native speaker, and I sympathize, but if your writing skills aren't up to snuff, you gotta find a proofreader!

Anonymous said...

If poor punctuation was the most negative review that your colleague received, he or she is in good shape! I'm surprised the proposal was rejected.

I have never had a grant or a manuscript rejected for grammar, but I have criticized manuscripts (not proposals) for poor construction, sloppiness and grammar. That said, I would never reject on that basis alone.

Generally, if a proposal is poorly written, reviewers will not try to make an effort to understand the content. In this competitive climate, it is easier to move on to the next application that is likely easier to read, easier to deal with.

Anonymous said...

I've not received comments about punctuation errors, but I've occasionally written that the writing (e.g., grammar and punctuation) needs to be cleaned up. I find it so frustrating to be guessing at what might be misplaced commas and incorrect tenses when trying to parse already badly defined parameters. Understanding basic punctuation is easier than 99% of research and makes the results go down SO much better. It's kind of offensive when writers think they don't need to try.

Flora said...

A few typos are not a huge problem, but I do mark them just so the author/editors don't have to hunt for them down the road. If there are significant errors, as in mistakes every other sentence, then my review will be negatively impacted. Presentation and readability is part of understanding the research, after all.

Anonymous said...

but when I encounter one or two per page, it's lack of attention to detail.

...and that is relevant how?

Anonymous said...

I have commented on spelling and punctuation in only one paper review, and only because it was egregious -- symbols in the middle of words and dozens of commas in incorrect places. The paper was painful to read because of it.

Anonymous said...

Grants: I have never had that critiqued in a grant review, but have never reviewed a grant myself.

Manuscripts: I would only comment on sloppiness if it gets to the point that it makes a paper hard to follow. If someone comments on minor issues like that, I see it as a sign that they are an unskilled reviewer (usually their other critiques are also ab,surd). This is also what I teach my students, since even undergrads should be able to recognize a sh,tty review.

Anonymous said...

I comment on grammar and spelling all the time (basically while I'm doing my first read, I jot down any that I see). Not sure about commas, and I don't think (HOPE!) I haven't hypocritically corrected an error using another error!

I am grateful when people do the same (even if they are hypocritical), as I often miss small things like this... much better that they are caught than go to print as errors and leave me looking dumb.

chemcat said...

to be honest I have written comments on punctuation or similar issues (eg, slight misuse of a term that is common in the prospective grantee's field). However, thta had no influence at all on the content of my review or on my ratings... Is your colleague sure that his (perceived) poor punctuation resulted in the grant being dinged?

Anonymous said...

I have commented when the proposal was just so full of mistakes so as to make the whole thing sloppy. Otherwise something wrong here or there is no big deal, the important thing is the science going to be great or not?

The really sloppy one was from a very famous scientist. The impression I got was that he felt he didn't need to be careful because of who he is. He should just be guaranteed the money and put it together at the last minute and couldn't be bothered to re-read it carefully. I did not give him a poor review because of the poor presentation, I also felt his science wasn't well thought out in the details. I never looked it up to find out, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got funded even with my low mark.

EliRabett said...

The problem with poorly written grants is that the reader tends to "correct" it in virtual head space. If a PI cannot convey clear meaning (and grammar is part of doing that) then the PI should not be funded. It is not the reviewers charge to see further than the proposer.

Anonymous said...

I haven't commented on this in grants nor have I had feedback on it in reviews of grants. I think if it were truly bad I might say something because it affects clarity and honestly something that sloppy seems to me to raise a warning flag but minor slip-ups do not seem worth worrying about. Grants are often multi-author endeavours and pulling all the editing together can introduce some problems but as long as the broader structure is clear I just can't see worrying about this if the science is good.

Anonymous said...

I recently had a manuscript (and so not a grant proposal) where poor English and grammar made the manuscript hard to read and many claims ambiguous.
This alone wouldn't be enough for a rejection, but it was a major weakness of the manuscript.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sesh that this quote doesn't show an error unless the sentence really ends there. It's the perfectly acceptable phrase "and the like," right? Not "like" as in "this is, like, terrible writing."

Female Science Professor said...

The review errors were not in the sentence quoted. They were elsewhere in the review.

Strung out cyclist said...

I usually correct as many grammar errors as I can find in a manuscript, unless the English is so bad that it's almost unintelligible (yes I've been asked to review papers like that). Even these I try to judge on the science rather than the language. Journal proofreaders don't always do a good job correcting the language. I've had papers sent back where sentences or equations were "corrected" when there was no error and in such a way as to destroy the meaning. One such error made it into the final, published version.

pyrope said...

This was 'major' comment #1 in a recent paper review I received:
"In places, wording is sloopy and there are some unnecessary mistake."

I thought it was pretty hilarious and your post reminded me that I meant to print that out and put it on my wall next to my array of fortune cookie messages :)

Anonymous said...

oh gosh, I just got a nasty review for a leading journal in chemistry. Ratings were not justified by the comments, and the reviewer actually spent abut 3 sentences to explain to me that the correct spelling of a certain ligand is bpy and NOT bipy. Surprised, I searched the manuscript: there was 1 instance of bipy our of about 30 occurrences, and it was in supplementary material. Seriously????
on the flip side, I took it to mean that despite rather anal analysis of the manuscript, that's pretty much ALL he/she could come up with.

Anonymous said...

I've commented on spelling/grammatical mistakes on proposals, but only when they are egregious -- i.e., so many of them that they are truly distracting or make the text ambiguous. If the PIs did not read their proposal carefully enough to catch multiple incomplete sentences, what else did they miss? It's definitely a red flag, and disrespectful to the poor panelist who has to slog through a pile of proposals.

I have also received reviews (on manuscripts) that include typos. What's the big deal? I don't expect reviewers to proofread their reviews to the same extent as authors or PIs. It's pro bono work.

JaneB said...

I take it as an indication that they didn't want to fund it but couldn't articulate why, think that they must be sad little people, and move on...

Anonymous said...

For a manuscript, we were once criticized for using the wrong kind of hyphen! This reviewer also did not like our grammatically correct use of parentheses.

prashanth said...

If there are significant errors, as in mistakes every other sentence, then my review will be negatively impacted. Presentation and readability is part of understanding the research, after all.

Anonymous said...

occasional typos and grammatical errors? i couldn't care less. i always find a few in my own proposals.

frequent typos and grammatical errors can substantially impact readability and may be an indication of lack of attention to detail... so, frequent issues could very well affect my review.

grammatical errors common to folks writing in english but having a different first language? i only care when i cannot figure out the point of the text.

would i comment on this in review? for a career award? yes as this is also a time at which one can provide mentoring. for a more senior PI? well - i guess it depends on how annoying it was. for manuscripts, i always comment on this and point out a handful of examples.

would it affect my final review of a proposal? if i had to read sentences over and over in order to get the point - yeah - it would probably affect my review. however, if the writing were clear, then some typos and some grammatical problems are not going to affect my final recommendation.

that said - the most beautiful writing will not sell a crappy idea, in my opinion. beautiful writing combined with solid ideas? now that is a proposal that can actually be kind of FUN to read!!!!

i usually advise my students and post-docs to write for readability. if the reading feels heavy and slow, then the reviewer will not be as "happy" at the end of reading it... if the figures are ugly and clunky, then the reviewer won't be as "happy" after looking at them. first and foremost - the science must be excellent. then - put that frosting onto that cake, and make it look nice..... it's worth the time.

MsPhD said...

I have frequently commented on grammatical errors, especially punctuation, in grant and manuscript reviews. My own scientific writing was harshly criticized when I was a grad student, and I put a lot of work in learning how to improve my technical writing, and helping to teach any students who asked for my help.

Perhaps because of that experience, it strikes me as especially sloppy and lazy when I read a grant that seems to have been written by someone for whom English is a second language, and they didn't prioritize having an English speaker at least proofread it for them.

In most cases, it doesn't make the grant impossible to understand, but in my experience, it often correlates with other organizational problems or lack of persuasiveness, like failing to explain alternative approaches to possible pitfalls.

I'm much more likely to score a grant negatively for being poorly conceived, but where the punctuation and grammar error really kill you is if your grant is borderline. Sloppiness will tend to tip it into the "no" pile.

Anonymous said...

I routinely include in my reviews notes on grammatical errors for papers (not grants), just to facilitate their correction for the final published version. When the writing is grammatically correct, it is easier to read and understand, and copy editors miss things. I always group these at the end of my review as "Very minor" corrections. If small in number and infrequent, these have no effect on my review.

If, however, the grammar is so poor that I have difficulty understanding the paper, this will negatively impact my review. Part of the author's job is to communicate the findings. If they conduct a nice study but the paper is incomprehensible, this would lead to a poor review - but this is extremely rare. I can only think of one paper where the grammar was so bad it impacted my ability to the review the paper - and in this case, there were so many things wrong scientifically that it did not change my overall recommendation.

For grants, I don't comment on grammar. If the grammar impacted my ability to understand the proposal, I guess I'd say something so that they can try to improve that on the resubmission...

Anonymous said...

I often comment on typos and grammar errors, but I also always separate my comments into "major" and "minor", and the spelling and grammar problems always go into minor. I've worked often enough with good scientists who are not native speakers, and I always think about how badly I would do if we switched the required language. As long as I can understand the point, I do not hold the presentation against the author.

Anonymous said...

For articles I have made comments about grammar and English usage.

In grant reviews I have pointed out phrasing problems (I do a lot of interdisciplinary reviews and sometimes people use the meaning of a phrase from one subfield incorrectly in another) but never grammar errors.

I did once receive a grant review that said the proposal was exceptional in every way except for containing some minor grammatical flaws. Needless to say, it was rejected.

peluang usaha 2014 tanpa modal said...

I have never had a grant or a manuscript rejected for grammar, but I have criticized manuscripts (not proposals) for poor construction, sloppiness and grammar. That said, I would never reject on that basis alone.