In the previous article of this series, authors were encouraged to keep their writing as simple as possible. This suggestion is helpful in writing not only academic manuscripts but also cover letters, responses to reviewers, emails to potential collaborators, grant proposals, etc. However, the latter types of documents often permit a more casual tone, making it more tempting for an author to use language that may be unfamiliar to them but definitely appears to be more indicative of a native English speaker. What should an author do when he/she simply cannot avoid using certain English expressions outside his/her comfort zone?
Suggestion: There are many great online resources that can help you to understand and become more comfortable with particular English terms or phrases:
Google Scholar offers a quick way to search through thousands of published manuscripts for certain key phrases or terms. Consider searching specifically for those written by native English speakers. If you know of a researcher who is a native English speaker, you can type their name into the Advanced Search option to look through papers written by him or her.
Google Ngram offers users the ability to search for the occurrence of a term or phrase over several years (or even decades) to determine the rate of usage in written texts (note that these texts are not confined to academia). The higher the rate of usage, the more likely that the term or phrase is written correctly. You can also compare two phrases if you’re not sure which one is more common.
A resource like Ludwig is also helpful, as it allows you to search for particular words or phrases to see how they are commonly used in various types of English publications, such as different forms of news media. A lack of results regarding a certain idiom might indicate its incorrect usage. It is simple and free to sign up for an account on their website.
Using helpful resources such as these can greatly facilitate the process of writing in English when you are unable to gain access to a native speaker as you develop your written materials. Once you have completed the writing process, utilizing the services of a company like AJE can ensure that the words or phrases you’ve included in your documents have been used correctly.