METM10 presentation     Thread: Research

Scholarly gratitude in English- and non-English-speaking countries: a diachronic and cross-generic study of acknowledgments in medical discourse (1950-2010)

Françoise Salager-Meyer – Venezuela; MarÃía Angeles Alcaraz Ariza – Alicante, Spain; Georges Jabbour and Marianela Luzardo Briceño – Venezuela

Background and purpose: Recently, the role of acknowledgments in medical papers has been the subject of intense debate in online discussion groups for editors. Acknowledgments reflect backstage solidarity and provide insight into the dynamics of scientific collaboration. This study analyzed the use of acknowledgements in 3 medical genres published in five countries (Venezuela, Spain, France, UK and USA) from 1950 to 2010.

Methods: For each country, we selected 54 papers (18 research papers, 18 reviews and 18 cases), evenly distributed over 6 decades, from two or three medical journals with the highest impact factors. Only papers written by native speakers in the national language were included. We analyzed changes over time in frequency and length of acknowledgments.

Results: Of 270 articles studied, 127 (47%) had acknowledgments. The presence of acknowledgments was associated with country (p=0.001), this section being more common and longer in US and UK journals. Acknowledgments were most common in research papers (70% vs. 40% in cases and 31% in reviews, p<0.001). Reviews without acknowledgments were significantly more common than those with (69% vs. 31%), but there was no trend for cases. Altogether, articles with acknowledgments predominated only after 2000. Since the frequency of use of acknowledgments remained stable over time in US and UK journals but increased in non-Anglophone journals, the overall increase is attributed to the change in non-English publications.

Conclusions: Authors acknowledged non-authors more in English-language journals than in those published in the national language in France, Spain and Venezuela. However, the practice of acknowledging is increasing in non-Anglophone journals. Since non-native English-speaking authors may not understand the importance of acknowledgments in scientific reporting, editors and translators can explain their value, thus helping produce papers that meet expectations of international English-language journals, referees and readers.


Françoise Salager-Meyer obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in Russian at the University of Lyons and a Ph.D. in foreign language education at the University of Texas (Austin). She currently teaches English for specific purposes and Russian at the University of the Andes (Mérida, Venezuela). She is the author of numerous publications on written medical discourse. In 1994 and 2004, she was awarded the Horowitz Prize for her work on the pragmatics of written scholarly communication.

María Angeles Alcaraz Ariza is at the Department of Philosophy and Letters, Universidad de Alicante, Spain; Georges Jabbour (Department of Engineering) and Marianela Luzardo Briceño (Department of Economics) are both at the Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela.