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Submit an Error-Free Manuscript: 5 Proofreading Tips for Researchers

Proofreading errors leave a negative impression with the editor and the referee. Small mistakes and oversights in a manuscript often lead to misinterpretation or confuse the reader.

In this article, we illustrate the common language and formatting errors that authors are likely to spot when they proofread a manuscript. The list of errors is followed by 5 simple tips on how authors can avoid such errors in future.

This article will help you identify errors in your writing and submit an error-free copy to the journal.

What does proofreading mean?
To proof means to examine text carefully to find and correct typographical errors and errors in punctuation and spelling. Thus, proofreading is the process of checking text to ensure that it reads correct and is ready for publication

Why is proofreading important?
An instructor has quite humorously, but aptly, pointed out the effects of bad proofreading:
Turning in a paper with bad proofreading is like going to a party, dressed in your finest but without having brushed your teeth that morning. Basically, bad proofreading makes you look careless and dumb, which you are not.

On a more serious note, a number of manuscripts that are returned after peer review include referee comments such as
Please check the spellings in the manuscript carefully.
A number of grammatical errors are still evident in the manuscript.
English writing needs to be improved; the manuscript still contains language errors.

Besides leaving a negative impression with the editor and the referee, small mistakes and oversights often lead to misinterpretation or confuse the reader. For instance, a typographical error in the concluding sentence of a study could reduce the overall impact of the entire study. The following examples illustrate this point

 This study indicated that the autonomic nervous system is the major pathway conveying ghrelin's signals for inhibitory effects on insulin secretion from the portal vain (instead of vein) to the pancreas. Of the 36 respondents, 5 (instead of 5%) indicated that there was a positive effect.

In the above sentence, the meaning of the entire sentence will be misinterpreted. The sentence reads 5 out of 36 (14%) indicated that there was a positive effect, whereas the author intended to say that 5% (1.8 respondents) indicated that there was a positive effect.Thus, proofreading a manuscript is very important. In this article, we list the common errors that authors are likely to spot when they proofread a manuscript.
Common proofreading errors observed in manuscripts

Language Errors

  • Incorrect spelling
  • Incorrect or missing punctuation (especially commas and hyphens/dashes)
  • Incorrect capitalization
  • Incorrect or inconsistent use of present and past tense
  • Incorrect subject-verb agreement
  • Incorrect subject-verb agreement

Formatting Errors

  • Inconsistent format for headings and subheadings
  • Inconsistent spacing and indentation
  • Inconsistent use of acronyms, abbreviations, numbers, and units
  • Inconsistent numbering of sections, pages, and references

Some language errors such as incorrect spelling and capitalization can be quite easily avoided. It's important to know the rules of English grammar to be able to spot and correct the others errors. Formatting errors lead to poor presentation. Such errors can be easily avoided by paying more attention to the style and layout of your manuscript.

Spotting errors in text requires sharp observation skills. It also requires one to be aware of the different errors one can find. The sample passage on page 2 will help you understand these errors and spot them in your writing.
Proofread copy of manuscript

Roll over on the bold text to see the type of error.
Final copy of manuscript

Note: The corrected text has been highlighted in bold.

To proofread well you need 2 very important things: an effective process and good knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules. Grammar rules take a long time and consistent practice to master; while you continue learning these rules, these 5 easy tips will help you check and correct other minor errors in your manuscript.

5 tips to avoid proofreading errors
  • Always proofread on a printout. Use a colored pen to mark the changes.
  • Divide the proofreading process into 2 rounds.

    In the first round, read the document and focus on language. Specifically check for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.

    In the second round, check only the format and consistency of numbers and abbreviations. Highlight section headings, subheadings, and table and figure captions and check if the font size and type appears the same. Mark any doubtful text and recheck the font size and type online. Follow the same process to check the consistency of all numbers, abbreviations, and indents in the document.
  • Use a dictionary to refer to the correct spelling and capitalization.

    If you use Microsoft Word to create documents Click F7 This will run a Spelling and Grammar Check on the document

    If you use any other word processor, search for any spelling and grammar feature in it and learn how to use it. If it doesn't have a built in feature, check on the vendor website to see if there is any such plug-in available that can be used to check spelling.

    Note: Many word processing programs highlight spelling and grammar mistakes on screen. However, a spelling checker won't catch mistakes with homonyms (e.g., they're, their, there) or certain typographical mistakes where the mistyped word is also a word in the dictionary (e.g., heforthe). Therefore, it's preferable to check spellings in a dictionary.

    The Spelling and Grammar check will also highlight any missing spaces in the text. For example, if you have typed "andthe" instead of "and the," this check will show this as an error.
  • Look out for extra or missing spaces while reading.
    • Click Ctrl+F
    • In the Find What box, click the spacebar key twice
    • Click OK
    • This will scan the document for any double spaces and highlight them.
    • Ctrl+F can also be used to find and highlight terms in a document.
  • Do a backward proofread to check grammar and punctuation carefully. What is a backward proofread?

    Normally, we proofread a document by reading it from start to end. In a backward proofread, you need to start reading from the end. Read each sentence individually. Errors are often spotted this way because when you read backwards you remove the meaning from the text, focusing instead on the spelling of each word, word choice, the use of tense, articles, and prepositions, and punctuation.

    To focus on the logical flow of the sentences, you can also try reading aloud as if you were talking to an audience. Stop when you feel that some sentence may be unclear to the listener or if you think somebody may ask you a question. Mark those areas out. You might want to add some information to clarify your point.

    Use a good multipurpose grammar book for reference. If you are not familiar with the rules, you could seek help from someone who is. Below is a chart with some quick rules on grammar topics you need to know well. Punctuation is easier to learn, so start with learning some basic rules. In grammar, subject-verb agreement is simple to learn. It's also a good topic to start with since it is a common error category for nonnative speakers.
Quick rules
  • Use the past tense for actions that have been done in the past, e.g., methods and experimental details and discussion of other studies.
  • Use present tense to discuss current topics in introduction, facts, and results.
Subject-verb agreement
  • To discuss a singular subject, use singular verbs (e.g., is, was, shows). Experiment A shows that a combination of drugs is effective in improving response rate.
  • To discuss 2 or more subjects, use plural verbs (e.g., were, are, show). Experiments A and D show that that a combination of drugs is effective in improving response rate.
  • Use this and these to refer to things or events that have been mentioned recently (previous sentence).
    These results show that a combination of drugs is effective in improving response rate.
  • Use that and those to refer things or events that have been mentioned earlier in the document (possibly another page) or are from the past.
    Those studies did not include a combination of drugs.
  • All quotations marks and brackets should be in pairs, i.e., an opening and closing quote/bracket.
  • All complete sentences should end in a period.
  • If a sentence contains a list of items, each of them should be separated by a comma.
  • When using two or more adjectives to describe a noun, use a hyphen between the adjectives.

Two phase diodes
means that the author is specifying the quantity of the diodes used.
Two-phase diodes means that the author is specifying a characteristic (or the type) of the diodes.

Good proofreading comes with experience. The tips shown in this article will help you get started with proofreading. Follow these proofreading tips on all formal documents that you prepare. Practice will make you perfect!