Unless a native English speaker learns another language, he or she can never truly appreciate how difficult the English language really is. For example, articles (a, an, the) simply do not exist in many languages, particularly Asian languages, which makes it incredibly difficult for a non-native English speaker to decide when to insert that “the” before a noun. Verb tense can also be confusing to native and non-native English speakers alike. If only it could be as simple as the past, present, and future, but no—we’ve got perfect tenses and the conditional to contend with! When do you use those?
There is so much to know. This is another reason why a second pair of eyes is always beneficial when you’ve put your valuable time and energy into a project and you’re ready to submit it for publication. So, you might get a friend or colleague to read your work, and that person might offer you invaluable feedback on the content. However, the chances are very good that he or she will miss certain key elements with respect to language, like awkward constructions and missing articles—always indicators of non-native English to a publisher or journal referee.
That is where the professional editor comes in. Not only are we stingy grammarians but our eyes and brains are programmed to immediately catch even the most minute errors and slightest ambiguities in a text. For instance, we know that one tiny comma has the power to change the entire meaning of a sentence:
“Let’s eat, Mom”
“Let’s eat Mom”
So, if you get a professional to proofread your work, you can expect that your document will be free of the following errors:
(1) Basic grammar, e.g., your vs. you’re; it’s vs. its; there vs. their vs. they’re.
(2) Verb tense, e.g., using the present perfect tense to express an idea that can only be stated in the past.
CORRECT: She gave birth last night. (This action has a beginning and an end; thus, it is “simple.”)
INCORRECT: She has given birth last night. (This tense can only be used for continuous actions.)
As well as inconsistencies (e.g., starting your narration in the past tense and suddenly switching to the present tense).
(3) Awkward constructions will be rephrased in a clear and concise manner indicative of native English.
AWKWARD: Not for everybody dogs are the best pets to have.
BETTER: Dogs are not ideal pets for everyone.
(4) Incorrect and missing punctuation.
(5) Incorrect and missing articles.
(6) Word choice, e.g., blue vs. blew; or “the heads of state have frequent relations” (a different meaning altogether)
(7) Typographical errors.
(8) Inconsistent representation of references in an academic paper.
(9) Spacing inconsistencies.
(10) Overall flow, i.e., ensuring that the document reads like it was written by a native English speaker.
(11) And of course, anything the author asks us to check for or provide!