The importance of the proofing stage of a journal article

The joy of having your article accepted...

Writing up a piece of research and then seeing it get published in a journal is a huge thrill. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting your first (or later, for that matter) academic paper paginated and ‘proofed’ by a publisher into final form so you can see how it’s going to look when it appears in the journal. Of course, this final stage of the publishing process takes place electronically these days: all parts of the workflow from initial journal submission, peer review, production and final proofing are done by someone staring into a computer screen, including you, the author. The feeling remains the same, however; it’s a massive thrill to see your work formatted into the shape of a journal article, looking as it will when it appears ‘in print’. Or just online as in a publication.

...And moving to the proofing stage

This final proofing stage of production is actually hugely important. Journal editorial standards vary a great deal and it’s almost always your responsibility as the author to ensure that all mistakes and other issues are corrected when you get the chance to view your final ‘page proofs’. Some journals will send these to you in an email or via a weblink, while others (e.g. PLoS journals) just give their authors the chance to make a final check of the raw document files before production. Lots of journals don’t release a final proof copy as their publications are entirely online and therefore don’t include an actual printed version.

The final stage to get your article perfect

However your target journal manages this process, it’s nevertheless hugely important for you, the author, to carefully check the final version of your paper at this stage to make sure no spelling, formatting mistakes or other errors have crept in during production. Why? Well, the final online published version of an article is called the ‘version of record’ and is issued with what’s called a document identification number (DOI). Your research article will then appear online and can be used, re-used and cited by others. In most cases, assuming your journal actually still does produce printed issues, it might be many months before you see any page numbers. The journal production team will check your article (and dozens of others in the same issue) but ultimately it is your responsibility to check it: any mistakes will reflect badly on you! You don’t want your paper to be remembered by colleagues as the one that contained that silly spelling mistake.

Making changes after publication

Once an article has been published online (with a DOI) it’s actually quite hard for a journal to make further changes. Remember that, unless an error actually affects the accuracy of the research itself, editors will most likely refuse requests like this; publishing an online correction to a research article costs money. Errors and additions that need to be made because they do indeed impact the accuracy of the research are done through errata and addenda.

Using the proofing stage astutely

This ‘proofing stage’ of research article production is a great opportunity for you, the author. Keep in mind that once an article has moved into production it passes out of the hands of the academic editor and into another realm. Here’s a 'trick' that’s worth knowing. The team responsible for putting together the final shape of your article for proofing and journal production will not have seen any of the peer review or other editorial comments. Journals are happy for authors to make small corrections (but only small, mind you) to their papers at this stage. So, you are free to make small modifications to sentences, add or remove citations and replace figures. But again, do this cautiously: these should only be minor edits and enhancements.

Final tips

With that in mind, here are some pointers for reviewing your article that should be helpful both at the time of initial submission and during the proofing stage: Tips for Proofreading and Editing Your Paper

All the best for taking your accepted article toward publication!

 

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