25. What Happens to the Manuscript After Acceptance?

© Gábor L. Lövei, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0235.25

The Technical Editing and Printing Process

Once the scientific editor receives the final version, she carefully checks the final version vs. the accepted manuscript. If she is satisfied, the manuscript is forwarded to the printer. The accepted manuscript first goes to the copy-editor, who checks the spelling and punctuation, the style of the journal, unifies the abbreviations, and “marks up the manuscript”. This is a process of inserting comments and instruction on the margin of the manuscript, indicating the typeface, size, position, arrangement of figures and tables. These instructions are for the printer who will do the typesetting. If something is unclear, she will insert so-called “author queries” — points of clarification requested from the author.

Based on these instructions, the printer typesets the manuscript and inserts the figures and tables, producing the first proofs (in American English: “galley proofs”). These proofs look like the final, published article, with all the letter types, sizes, and arrangements as they will appear once the article is published. A few details may be missing; for example, the final page numbers. There are usually also line numbers that will not be printed in the final publication.

These proofs (with the author queries if relevant) are sent to the corresponding author for proofreading. Once the corrected proofs are returned, the printer performs any necessary corrections and produces the second proofs. These are also checked, but usually only by the production editor, not by the author. These second proofs also go back to the printer, and any remaining final corrections are made.

After this, the whole issue is collated, the final page numbers inserted, and all of this is sent for final authorisation to the editor, who, after checking one final time, authorises printing or publication. The journal is printed, bound and mailed (if published on paper), or put on the journal website. The publication process is complete; your article is published.


If you believe that, after sending a perfect manuscript as final submission, a perfect paper will result, because all further work is done by computers, you are very wrong! In my long publishing career, I have not published a single paper where there was no correction to be made at the proof stage. Your opportunity to check the appearance and quality of your paper is when the publisher sends you the proofs. This is your last and only chance, so you should do the proofreading very carefully and attentively.

Authors will receive a very short deadline for proofreading, usually not more than 72 hours. Publishers are very keen to publish as quickly as possible and therefore such short turnaround times are routine. You should receive a copy of your final submission, which formed the basis of the proofs, and the proofs themselves (two copies, if on paper). These may be accompanied by a so-called author query sheet. You are asked to check if the product (the proofs) matches that of the original (the final manuscript), and indicate any errors or mistakes that have occurred. With the rapid spread of electronic proofreading systems, all you may get is the proofs — one more reason to keep a copy of your final submission.

How to Do the Proofreading

First, do not rely on a spell-checker or computer. A spell-checker cannot interpret text, and will only check spelling. Missing words are not spotted.

Gastel and Day (2016) mentions the first English edition of the Bible, the so-called King James version, printed in 1631. The seventh commandment appeared as: “Thou shalt commit adultery”. There may be some speculation about the popularity of this edition, but one thing is certain: a computer spell-checker would never have spotted this error.

Second, do not do the proofreading by yourself. Ask someone to help. This is because you are too familiar with the text by this stage, and therefore unlikely to spot missing letters, mix-ups and similar errors. You may notice missing words or sections but otherwise your ability to spot errors will be low. Asking someone else will greatly reduce such errors being overlooked.

One of you should take the original (the manuscript), and read it aloud. The other person should carefully follow the proofs to see if it matches the original. Do this twice — it may seem superfluous, but remember: any mistake that slipped your attention will remain there forever. Do not underestimate the “annoyance potential” of such small errors; help yourself to ensure a less stressful life.

Take special care with numbers, tables, and figures, symbols, equations, unusual expressions, scientific names. Remember, the people working on your manuscript at this stage are not scientists; they are “keyboard operators”. They will not be able to spot if a decimal point error slipped through, if a column content is transposed, a scientific name is misspelled, etc. You are the only one who can spot such mistakes. And do not trust the computer — surprising errors can occur.

On finding an error, the traditional method used to be to mark its position in the text, and indicate the correction in the margin. For this, standard proofreading marks were used by people in the publishing and printing industry worldwide. Electronic proofreading systems seem to be increasingly used, in which the author must use the comments and correction tools in Adobe Acrobat. In some cases, you will have to return the corrected pdf file; for other journals, you will have to login into the proofing system of the journal on the Internet, and make the corrections directly. If your Internet link is not good enough for this, you can always download the pdf file, and work on that, then send the corrected file back by e-mail.

You should also check the placing, sequence and quality of tables and figures. Are the figure sizes large enough? They are rarely too big — but frequently too small, because the technical editor, from a desire to accommodate more papers on the limited number of pages available to the journal, will try to reduce size a little too much. Also, check the orientation of the figures, their sharpness and readability. If you are dissatisfied with them, you can request replacement or a size change, but indicate the reason. In that case, request the second proofs, too. For text changes, this is not necessary. Reply to any queries put to you, if there are any. These will usually concern word choices, sometimes missing data, numbers, etc. If there are any, correct them carefully.

At this stage, making changes can be very costly, because the whole issue is now typeset. As a rule, there cannot be any changes. If there is a missing paragraph that was omitted by the printer, they will have to correct it — this is not your error and, thus, you will not be expected to meet the costs. However, if you omitted a paragraph from the final manuscript, and want to include that in the printed paper, this can be very expensive. This cost will routinely be charged to the authors.

Additionally, check and update the reference list, especially the references that were, at the time of submission, “in press”. Add the final data if available; these usually comprise simply the year of publication, the volume and page numbers.

If not done earlier, you must now sign the copyright transfer form. If you have to pay any charges, this usually happens at this stage, too.

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