How to edit paper proofs

You just received paper proofs and they look so good! You also see that you need to get them back in 48 hours or something uncool. Take a deep breath. Here’s what to do.

  1. Put on your most meticulous demeanor. Be a perfectionist. This is the last time you’ll be able to correct the smallest things in your paper. These little things matter. Set aside the time and the focus to do this task.
  2. Start by going through the questions (the editor generally has a list of questions). Try to answer them as best as possible. Sometimes they ask for higher-resolution images — try to comply as images are an important part of a paper.
  3. Next, time to go through the paper. Open Adobe Acrobat (usually this is the one that is used) and make textual annotations anywhere that changes in the text need to be made. There is often a description about how to do this in the email.
  4. Remember that this is not the time to edit wording or phrasing. This is the time to capture factual errors, incorrect grammar, typos, bad ordering and references, and missing text.
  5. Ask your co-authors about anywhere they are mentioned: author list, address and affiliations, contributions, and — possibly most importantly — grant acknowledgements and conflicts of interest. Double check that co-authors (and yourself) have added those CoI specifically.
  6. Read the paper out loud. Don’t skip over figure/table captions, long titles, short titles, or any of the text.
  7. Read each equation for correctness.
  8. Check that every reference in text (to equations, figures, tables, citations, Supplemental information, or different sections of the document) is accurate, complete (no missing labeled equation, figure, table, and supplemental material references) and *in numbered order*.
  9. Look at each figure and table. Are the axes aligned? is the legend labeled properly? Are confidence intervals included? Do the confidence intervals make sense? Is everything readable and also consistent across the figure? Is it the most recent version of the figure/table? Is what the text says about the figure/table accurate?
  10. Look through the bibliography. Are the proper names and acronyms upper case? are journal names upper case? Are there missing journals or years? Are any preprints that have been published still listed as preprints? Update any mistakes.
  11. If you ask your co-authors to do this editing with you, you must integrate their changes and yours into a single document, and send back one marked up proof.

Send it back in time (or ask for an extension). Sometimes for hard questions or when you don’t know the answers, it’s best to get the production editor on the phone to talk about any issues remaining. Then celebrate! And wait…