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The truth about your proof: The final stage of journal article production is a huge opportunity for authors


Writing up a piece of research and then seeing it get published in a journal is a huge thrill. I’m old enough to remember the days when journal page proofs used to arrive in the post: there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting your first 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. That stage when your own research writing goes from a simple Word document and a series of figures and tables into an actual research paper!


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 as a publication.


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.


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.


Once an article has been published online (with a DOI) it’s actually quite hard for a journal to make further changes. We get quite a few emails in our editorial office that say things like ‘I’ve noticed a mistake in my published paper. Is there any chance I can make a change?’. Remember that, unless an error actually affects the accurary of the research itself, editors will most likely refuse requests like this; publishing an online correction to a research article costs money.


This ‘proofing stage’ of research article production is also 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 to their papers at this stage, and you can also make small modifications to sentences, add or remove citations, and replace figures.


This is your chance: maybe you’ve been asked to make some small changes to your paper in peer review that you did not agree with by one reviewer? The addition of citations, perhaps? You probably made these small changes in order to increase your papers chances of acceptance, to keep your reviewers and editors happy. Now, in the proofing stage, you can always put the text back the way it was before. Small changes to articles are going to be ok with the production team.


If you have questions about academic writing in general or the journal production process in particular, Charlesworth can help. Our training courses (which can be booked via institutions), online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and maximise your potential as a researcher. Indeed, our world-class English language editing services are designed to support your wider research and writing; why not run your next paper through our grant editing and pre-peer review services, or get your writing edited and polished by one of our PhD-level specialists working in the same research field as you?


Did you know that Charlesworth runs an educational webinar at the end of each month? Why not sign up and learn something useful to advance your career?


Find out more at www.cwauthors.com.


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