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Often the publisher requests to get the proof within 24 hours when it's ready. What are the reasons for making this so short? Do they want the authors to not make too many changes?

EDIT: The email I received said:

Please ensure you check the entire article carefully, and answer all queries. Return corrected proofs and any related material by uploading to the site within 24 hours.

EDIT: @StrongBad pointed out a related question.

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Yes, an interesting question considering that usually one's wait for these galleys is months on end, with no accurately predicted deadline... – paul garrett Aug 11 '14 at 14:47
All of the answers and comments are very illuminating. Thank you all. I have accepted the most popular answer. – Memming Aug 13 '14 at 13:18
To be honest, I would think tohecz's answer should be the accepted one. – E.P. Aug 14 '14 at 15:28
@episanty You are right. I switched the accepted answer. :) – Memming Aug 14 '14 at 17:53

8 Answers 8

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I'll try to explain the problem from both perspectives: author and a journal typesetter.

The typesetting process goes as follows:

  1. We pre-plan the issue contents 2 months in advance, in order to balance the issues in size. This is necessary for small journals with 4 or 6 issues per year, not quite for large journals with a long publishing queue. At this moment, we take articles that are accepted. If there's not enough of them, we go through the queue and try to find articles that can be accepted quickly.

  2. Now the authors provide the final version. This takes some time, so I receive the articles usually 4-6 weeks before the issue date. That's not a lot of time.

  3. Most articles are typeset within 1-2 weeks after I receive them. With these, there's no problem at all. However, then you have articles that take more time, since the quality of the figures is being discussed, as well as semantics (when the formatting from the authors is poor and the semantics are not clear) etc. This takes some time. So it can happen that the article is typeset like 2 weeks before the issue date, or even less.

  4. So now the article is typeset and is with the authors for proofs. Any correction they make has to be incorporated. Sometimes it's not easy (requests for replacing a figure with a better one, for moving figures to other pages etc. are not uncommon). Sometimes I strongly disagree with the authors on these. In such cases, we need to have yet another couple mails exchanged or the chief editor involved, and that takes time again. At this moment you see that 24 or 48 hours can be the maximum we can give.

  5. Once all articles get back, the issue has to be made ready, articles published online, CrossRef+Scopus metadata prepared, DOI registered etc.

That's the perspective of the journal I typeset. I hope that it is clear that the publication comprises a lot of steps. When the authors are cooperative and reasonable, everything goes fluently and the final version is ready 4 weeks before deadline. And then you have cases when things don't go quite well, and you get very close to the deadlines.

Moreover, to make things easier (and reduce the amount of work just before the issue date), you leave authors quite a short time for response. In most cases, there is plenty of time left, but if 80% of people misuse this time, we work 16 hours a day the last 3 days before the issue date to sort everything out, and we simply want to avoid this.

From the perspective of the author, 48 hours is not much for proofreading an article, especially since this has to be done very carefully. However, in most cases, if you ask for extension (a 5-line mail with a very short request is enough), it will be granted without any problem. Just please don't misuse the possibility.

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These timings don't fit with my experience as an author (presumably because of being in a field that works on a different timescale). It can be over a year between the journal receiving the final version of the paper (already typeset, just in a different layout) and the author receiving the proofs (often edited to create major errors that completely change the meaning or turn the work to nonsense). After the 2/3 days given to the author to send back the re-edits, the paper appears online, in final form except page numbers etc. A couple of months later, the paper makes it to a journal issue. – Jessica B Aug 19 '14 at 19:43
@JessicaB That's quite possible. The publish queue is probably quite long in the journals, right? And yes, the timings are quite field-dependent, and even journal-dependent. I only tried to explain from the view of the journal that the things aren't quite simple. – yo' Aug 19 '14 at 19:51

Galley proofs are part of the production process where a book or journal issue is actually printed, as opposed to the 'softer' process of deciding what pieces will go into it and in what form. As such, the deadlines for their revision are associated with the physical production process rather than the editorial process for the piece and can be quite different from deadlines for e.g. minor revisions or revise-and-resubmit requests.

These proofs are only meant to be used to check that the typesetting correctly represents the author's intent, and not that the content is scientifically correct (which should have been done at an earlier stage). Occasionally a one- or two-sentence 'note added in proof' may be appended to a paper but that's about it; for an example see the AIP style guide, p.11. Checking the typesetting is assumed to be a straightforward matter that does not require more than one day (though assuming that an academic can spare the time at the publisher's decision with no prior notice is another matter), so such deadlines are usually OK.

Note also that such deadlines can be negotiable if properly handled. If such a requests lands on you and you will not be able to complete it in time, it is usually acceptable to notify the editor, as soon as possible, that this is the case. A polite note along the lines of

Dear Editor,

We have successfully received the proofs of our article. Unfortunately, today is my thesis defence, my coauthor is getting married and my advisor is away due to travel, so we will be unable to complete your request to review the proofs within 24h. We will get them to you as soon as possible, which will likely be the day after tomorrow. Is this acceptable, or will it lead to a delay in publication?

can work wonders in stretching such a deadline. From personal experience, I have seen a 24-hour request be stretched to a full week without a publication delay.

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Or, for instance, the journal could send you a notice on Christmas Eve to return the page proofs. (This happened to me recently!) – aeismail Aug 11 '14 at 18:04
The high-probability explanation of this capriciousness is that they think they can "get away with it", given the circumstances. Remaining silent for months, and then giving someone a 24-hour deadline is ... let's face it... grossly disrespectful. Power-inequity manifest. Explanation-over. :) – paul garrett Aug 12 '14 at 0:17

As I said in my answer to How much time is usually left for authors to return page proofs? What happens if I am late?, I have never seen a 24 hour turn around time requirement, but 48-72 hours seems quite common. I think there are two reasons for the turn around time to be on the order of days. From my experience, publishers are working on a tight schedule; there might only be a month or two between when the proofs are finished and the issue is delivered to subscribers. If an article needs to be re-typeset or delayed to a later issue, the publisher will need to rework the the entire issue which is going to take some time. It seems that with their time scale the longest they could wait for proofs would be two weeks. This leads to the second issue. Academics do not handle deadlines well and publishers need to handle the articles from the worst procrastinators amongst us. If you give a bunch of academics a deadline in 2 weeks a non-insignificant portion will take over a month. Quick, cheap, paper based publications with flexible deadlines for authors and reviewers just isn't practical.

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I am not convinced by this argument. Most journals today typeset every article in a new page, so there is basically no need to change anything to shift a paper to a later issue. The only thing that changes is the page number. Moreover, excluding special issues, it seems far more sensible to allocate a paper to an issue after the authors return the corrected proofs. – Federico Poloni Aug 11 '14 at 16:42
@FedericoPoloni I don't understand the printing process but printed journals are not just a bunch of stapled/glued together pages. Further, if the journal has some color pages, but not all, that can make a big difference to the layout. Many journals also have advertisements which may also need to be repositioned. My guess is that the publishers think the current system is sensible enough. I don't have much faith in publishers, but I would think that the system would change if enough people required extensions. – StrongBad Aug 11 '14 at 16:54
I guess we are simply in different fields then. As far as I can tell, in mathematics a journal is just a bunch of articles stapled togethers, each printed on different pages. Advertising and other editorial content is minimal or non-existent and is never on the same pages as the papers. – Federico Poloni Aug 11 '14 at 20:17
Again, if the publisher is silent for several months, which is the norm in mathematics, and then sends me an email telling me I need to do something within 24 hours, ... – paul garrett Aug 12 '14 at 0:19
@FedericoPoloni Even in mathematics, most journal issues are more than just a bunch of articles stapled together. Respectable-looking journals are bound, and (if I remember correctly from when I was a managing editor) that requires the number of pages to be divisible by 8. There might be other constraints that I'm not remembering now (or perhaps never knew). – Andreas Blass Aug 12 '14 at 3:00

Your paper ought to be in pretty good shape after you get to the point of galley proofs. At that point, you are really just checking to be sure that their typesetters didn't introduce errors. All of your own typos and requests from reviewers should have been fixed by the time you get there.

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There was one paper that had the typesetting introduced hundreds of errors. It was an equation heavy paper in a biological journal. That took less than a day, but I only worked on that paper that day... – Memming Aug 11 '14 at 14:51
If that happens, you can ask for an extension. – Bill Barth Aug 11 '14 at 14:52
@Memming Indeed in that situation, when yo say "You made so many errors that I cannot complete correction in one day", they can hardly deny you an extension ... – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 12 '14 at 9:41

In addition to the fact that in most cases you can easily check the proofs within a day, I would assume that it’s also more efficient for the typesetters and in particular the copy editors in the case that you actually want to correct something as they are still familiar with your paper and are thus faster at applying your corrections. For example, after one day a copy editor usually remembers the reason and context of a particular change and can thus faster work your corrections.

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(I'm a journal typesetter.) No, it's not really easy to proofread a paper. We sometimes make lots of changes and lots of things can go bad, even if we try that not to happen. – yo' Aug 12 '14 at 13:17
@tohecz: Did I ever claim something different? (I only claimed that it’s usually easily possible for the authors to check the proofs within a day.) Also, if you are involved in typesetting: Can you confirm my assumption? – Wrzlprmft Aug 12 '14 at 14:36
Now I feel that I wanted to comment another answer, sorry for that. Anyways for your question: I think it depends. It's certainly more comfortable to keep the article with me for as short time as possible, but I don't consider having to return to it a problem. It's more the overall complexity of the process that makes us impose short deadlines on proofs. – yo' Aug 12 '14 at 14:46
And yes, you can check the proofs within a "normal day", however, people seem not to have many "normal days" -- all the time you have seminars, teaching activities, board meetings, scheduled discussions with students, travelling, etc. It's sometimes hard to find spare 3 hours within consecutive 3 days, not to speak within 1 day. – yo' Aug 12 '14 at 14:46

The reason is simply that nobody is expected to make any changes to the galley proofs. The content and the basic wording of the paper is fixed after acceptance. No rewriting or reformulating is allowed at this stage. The authors should only check if the typesetting and copy editing did not introduce any errors. Often you are also given a list of changes that the copy editor made and you can also work through this list. In other words, the author is only expected to read the galley proofs once and only with the "correctness lens". This could be done in less then 24 hours in almost all circumstances. In exceptional cases you may well ask for deadline extension.

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I don't find this a compelling reason. I agree that normally it takes less than 24 hours to check the proofs; let's say reasonably one hour or two. But they could be sending them in what is a busy day for me. For what they know, I could be on holiday, or it could be the day of my PhD defence, or my wedding day. – Federico Poloni Aug 11 '14 at 15:23
@FedericoPoloni, of course. And, as I have ranted above, how could there be a 24-hour quasi-emergency after months of silence from them, etc. For-profit publishers are, if only by accident or economic necessity, bullies. – paul garrett Aug 12 '14 at 0:20
@paulgarrett In my field non-profit publishers are following exactly the same practices. Physical publishing of journals (which in my opinion is totally useless) automatically requires good publishing practices. If academicians do not insist physical publishing, and could manage online journals, problem would have been automatically solved and many cost saved. – Greg Aug 12 '14 at 7:12
@FedericoPoloni, normally, the typesetter would contact you in advance, saying on WHICH day the proofs will reach you. Then it is up to you to accommodate sufficient time for the proofreading on that or the following day... – al_b Aug 12 '14 at 13:07
@al_b, I have never had any accurate advance warning of when the proofs are coming - the acceptance email says wait for proofs, after that you're at the mercy of the publication workflow. The only errors that have been introduced in my papers have been easy-to-find/fix breaking of formulae, but there's no guarantee that an author will even see the email within 24 hours (and therefore no opportunity to ask for an extension). That said I don't think they really expect every proof to be returned in that timescale. – Chris H Aug 12 '14 at 14:36

Speaking as a former Design Director, Typographer, and Production Manager of many publications and also of national-market print advertising work:

The reason that there's a tight deadline for authors' galley proofs is because of what galley proofs are for: evaluating whether the formatting has introduced any issues with readability or meaning; whether there's any typos or format errors; whether there's any omissions or duplications.

The turnaround is tight because it's part of the production phase, not part of the editorial phase. The time to edit and re-write and fuss over the article is done and gone. Galley proofs is a final reality check, not a chance to revisit that awkward sentence in the 4th 'graph.

Traditionally in print, editorial and not production is given the luxury of extra time. Usually there is no luxury of time, in spite of what it appears to the author. Most journals have a lot more production steps to go through and are very close to press time when the authors' proofs go out. It may seem like "not a big deal," but a printing operation has scheduled their presstime very closely, and if your book is late, it gets bumped from the schedule in favor of something that is actually ready for press. If your book is bumped from the press schedule, it might be days or weeks before it can slot back in. The cost to "hold" the press is spectacularly prohibitive.

Production and pre-press times are shrinking these days, it's easier today and faster to get a book to press than it was in, say, 1985. In many ways that exacerbates the problem with proofs turnaround...there's just no "fiddle" time anymore.

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But nowadays many major publishing companies release journal articles online several months before they appear in the journal issue. Why does it matter if an article appears online three months and three weeks before the absolutely identical version gets published or three months and two weeks before the absolutely identical version gets published? – Pete L. Clark Oct 8 at 4:36
In the non-academic press, a publication (i.e. magazine) with a cover date of January 2016 would be delivered to subscribers and newsstands/bookstores no later than mid-December 2015; To do this the skids of finished magazines have to be at the post office in the first week of December. If your publication has, say, a 100k print run (a bit bigger than your typical academic journal) a large bindery operation needs three or four days...five days if it's a smaller bindery. That means it has to be off the press before the last day of November. – dwoz Oct 8 at 16:40
Let's say your publication is five forms (5 x 16 pgs.) two of which are color. Modern presses run at about 10k impressions for sheet, 30k impressions for web. You've got five set-ups and five runs...a couple days if your press only runs one shift. Prepress for that is a day or so, and so the latest you can be at the printer is the beginning of the fourth week of November. But when you send your materials to the printer, they have to make proofs (blue-lines or some other proofs that show full sheet impositions). Those proofs need about 4 days to turn around, so we're back to mid-november. – dwoz Oct 8 at 16:43
It takes a week or so to do the composition and layout and final fussing-around with a five-form publication (80 pgs or so). That means that we need the authors' proofs back by the first week in November, for a commercial publication. An academic journal needs a longer lead time, because the people who have to read and approve things are, well, academics and not full-time publication people. So the proof cycles are that much longer. This should help you understand why a publication with a January cover date needs to be wrapped up by the beginning of November! – dwoz Oct 8 at 16:48
also...forgot to mention that Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, all fall within that add ANOTHER week. We're back to October. – dwoz Oct 8 at 16:49

The proof is an actually typesetted version of your paper, ready to production. In other words, everything is ready that someone pushes a button and the press can print the issue. This is the very last "lets check it one more time" thing.

For this reason:

  • If you have a correction, it is actually cost money to them.
  • If there is 50 paper in the journal, and 10 out of the 50 start rewriting the paper in the last minute, then the production line waits till everything is fixed, reformatted, again cost money. A lot.

Before anyone starts to complain about the 24 hr (which is common in my field, too), let us be a little professional.
Your paper should anyway be free of errors and well written at the point of submission. Then several referees check it back and force, as well as you are free to check your manuscript if you are not sure. When you are at the proof stage, your paper has already read and checked by several people, several times for months. You don't have a good reason to re-write anything, except if there is an error due to typesetting. In other worlds, if you done your job decently, you don't have more than 5 min job with that proof in 99% of the time.

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Actually, the typesetting process often introduces many errors for some reason. I think the publisher somehow 'retypes' all the text which seems bizarre in this digital age (but then again, this publisher didn't like LaTeX and insisted on converting everything to MS Word). Though you are right that it costs the publisher a lot of effort (and some money) to change things at this stage. – Memming Aug 12 '14 at 4:44
@Memming It may vary publisher by publisher. I have seen less than 5 genuine typos/mistakes in proofs so far, but I met dozens of professors who wanted to change the title or conclusion in the proof (directly editing the PDF), which makes me sympathetic toward publishers in this question. – Greg Aug 12 '14 at 7:15
@Memming It depends. Sometimes it happens I introduce rather stupid mistakes even if I pay a lot of attention. One example for all: A figure with two graphs got change from top-bottom to left-right layout, but I forgot to change one in-text reference from "top" to "left". Certainly: The idea that you can proofread an article in 5 minutes is a bad idea. I, the typesetter, am not responsible for mistakes I introduce, in the sense that you cannot be angry at me that I made a mistake and you missed it during proofs. – yo' Aug 12 '14 at 14:16
@Greg I think there's a misunderstanding. I wrote that comment with my LaTeX typesetter hat on, I made a mistake during the processing of an article of someone else, when I needed to re-arrange the figures to better fit them. – yo' Aug 12 '14 at 16:23
@tohecz (sorry, I am missed you are a typesetter) By the time I publish a paper I really know all the key point by heart. 5 minutes is maybe an exaggeration, but someone who is familiar with the text should able to check if all the equations, figures are correct or not in very short time. If someone messes up a figure that I worked for hours and redone 5 times, I don't need an hour to catch it. If the typesetter misspell an adjective that no way influence the readability my results and conclusions and I cannot catch it with one read - I live with it, and sleep well. – Greg Aug 12 '14 at 16:31

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