Those striking facts, presented in a breakout session at the 2013 CSE annual meeting, emphasize the need for academic authors in developing and non-native English-speaking (NNES) countries to receive English-language grounding in an era of globalization. The session highlighted interesting case studies as food for thought on how NNES authors can be empowered.
One specific case presented was that of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, or the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). UNAM is considered the most prestigious Spanish-speaking university, with a strong presence in Mexico (39 campuses) and internationally (United States, Canada, and China). Why, then, is UNAM not ranked as one of the top 10 universities worldwide? The answer might lie in the fact that the top 10 universities are in English-speaking countries.
The bias in favor of native English-speaking authors in prestigious universities has been documented.1 Although corporate services offer translation and editing support to NNES authors, such services do not necessarily solve the language-barrier problem that NNES authors face. That situation prompted the speakers to start various programs dedicated to capacity building for NNES authors.
A “boot camp” course for manuscript preparation, with submission and acceptance as the goal, was developed for UNAM students. Piloted in 2011, it is a 2- or 3-week full-time course for PhD candidates and faculty. It comprises a blend of lectures, reading material, interactive workshops, and one-onone sessions on the publication process, manuscript preparation, and publication ethics. Students are expected to apply their learning to develop their present manuscripts. On course completion, the participants’ progress and manuscript status are evaluated, and suggestions for further improvement are offered. The facilitators hope to make the course a part of the regular UNAM curriculum and extend it to other Spanish-speaking countries.
Other initiatives undertaken to empower NNES authors include the China Medical Board (CMB) Program in Biomedical Writing and Editing, the Texas A&M Intensive Course in Research Writing, and AuthorAID. Those initiatives have many features in common with the UNAM course.
The CMB program, which ran from 1996 to 2007, was based in China with a US coordinating center and served multiple health-science centers in China and other Asian countries. It involved intensive training in academic writing and editing in China and, for editorial trainees, a subsequent internship in the United States or Canada.
The Intensive Course, running since 2008, is a 3- to 4-week residential summer training course at Texas A&M in which participants from Mexico, Asia, and Africa learn a step-by-step approach to manuscript writing. The residential program offers the benefit of full-time, focused learning and access to the university library resources.
Finally, AuthorAID (www.authoraid.info), established in 2007, aims to help researchers in developing countries to get published. The project involves onsite and online workshops, mentoring, grants, an e-mail discussion list, and free Web site resources, such as an active blog. Workshops, usually 2–5 days long, have been conducted in numerous developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and provide training in preparing manuscripts, presentations, and grant applications.
All those initiatives have such challenges as cultural differences and inconsistent commitment from participants, but they can be rewarding to both instructors and participants while serving the broader noble goal of empowering authors.
- Ross JS et al. Effect of blinded peer review on abstract acceptance. JAMA 295(14):1675–80.