One of the hard parts about reviewing for a conference is trying to rank imperfect papers. Does the novel paper without an evaluation get ranked higher than the incremental work with beautiful experiments? Does the interesting paper in a near-dead area get ranked above the borderline paper that is attacking an important problem?
Over the weekend I reviewed a dozen conference submissions that ended up being quite a bit more interesting than I had feared, but a good 5 or 6 of them had presentation problems. One paper described strong work and was well written in all respects except that it contained literally 50 or 60 errors of this general form:
One of the major reason for…
Obviously this hurts the paper, but how much? The larger context is that although English is the dominant language for scientific publishing, papers are increasingly coming from all over the world. More and more, none of the authors has English as a first language and it’s easy to imagine circumstances where it’s hard for the authors to find someone to do a solid proofreading pass. Having lived overseas for several years when I was younger, I can sympathize with how difficult it is to operate in a foreign language.
The position I’ve arrived at is to try to get a paper rejected when the level of presentation is so poor that it seriously interferes with the technical message, but to let errors slide otherwise. Ideally, I’d also include a detailed list of grammatical mistakes in my review, but in practice this is prohibitively time-consuming when papers contain many dozens of errors.