Case: An author’s manuscript was accepted by a journal and sent to the production team for further processing. When the copyedited proofs were sent to the author for his approval, he found several errors and inconsistencies. While certain parts had been copyedited indeed well, other parts had many evident grammatical errors. The author corrected the proofs and sent them back to the journal. He expected that the corrected version of the paper would be sent to him for his approval before being sent for typesetting. However, he was astonished to be informed a few weeks later that the paper had been posted online as an e-First publication. When he went through the paper, he eyed that many of the corrections he had made had not been incorporated. The author was upset, and more so, because he had had a similar practice of inconsistent copyediting with the same journal earlier. However, for the previous paper, the corrections he had suggested had been incorporated and there were no errors in the published paper.
This time, matters were worsened with the paper being published online with the errors. Apart from grammatical errors, there were also issues with the sizes and captions of some of the figures. The author wrote to the journal, requesting them to correct the errors. The journal made the corrections to the published paper, with a footnote stating: “A correction was made to the e-First version of this paper on August 14, 2015, prior to the publication of the final issue. The current online and print versions are identical and both contain the corrections.”
The author was unhappy with the way the footnote had been written. This is because albeit the errors were a result of the journal’s negligence, he felt that readers might be misled into believing that the author had made the errors since the footnote did not clearly mention that the journal was at fault. He desired the footnote to be eliminated and sought the advice of the Editage publication support team on how he could persuade the journal to do so.
Act: We explained to the author that corrections made to a published article are always accompanied by a note of explanation, either as a footnote or, separately, in a corrigendum. Irrespective of whose mistake it was, it is the norm to proclaim that a correction was made. Therefore, the footnote should not be eliminated as this would go against publication best practices. However, we suggested that the author write to the Editor-in-Chief pointing out that the explanation in the footnote should clarify that the errors were made during production and that the author was not at fault. The mail should also include details of the author’s previous practice with copyediting, so that the EIC could be made aware of the poor quality of copyediting at the journal. The author followed these instructions and wrote to the EIC. The EIC replied to the author telling that making switches to the footnote would not be possible as correcting an explanation for another correction would seem slightly awkward. However, the EIC apologized to the author and assured him that such a problem would not recur.
Summary: Journals should have some kind of quality control mechanism to ensure that the production process is sleek and efficient. If authors detect errors or negligence on the part of the journal’s production team, they should bring it to the notice of the Editor-in-Chief instantaneously. Moreover, journals should get the author’s approval of the final version of the proofs before publishing the manuscript in in any form. Additionally, if there are errors in the published paper due to the journal’s negligence, the correction note should clearly mention that they were production errors, so that the author’s credibility is not affected in any way. Some publishing houses, such as Nature Publishing Group, use errata to correct errors made by the journal. Some other publishers use errata and corrigendum only for errors made by the authors; for correction of errors for which the publisher is responsible, a publisher’s note is issued. Whatever the correction policy, it should ensure that the journal takes utter responsibility for errors made in the production process, and the author’s reputation is not tainted.