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I recently had a paper accepted by a journal which doesn't provide author proofs. Unfortunately, a typographical error was introduced during typesetting, but I had no way to know this until the paper went in print. I'm trying to determine what is the line between a minor typo and an error which requires issuing a correction.

To get into some more specifics, a constant was left out of an equation. Although that sounds really bad on its face, the equation is very standard and everyone in the field already knows the correct form of the equation. I can't realistically conceive of anyone being misled by the error. In fact, I doubt most readers will even notice. But it's technically incorrect as it stands.

This is one of those instances where I feel damned if I do and damned if I don't. Issuing a correction looks bad, but leaving the mistake looks bad as well. I double checked the revised manuscript we submitted and confirmed the error was definitely introduced by the journal staff. What do I do here?

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    This is definitely dependent on the culture of your field and of your subfield. You will get much better answers by asking a range of senior people in your field than by asking people who have no idea about your field and its norms. If you don't know enough senior people to ask, the editors of the journal are good choices - the editors have nothing to do with the actual production and printing of your paper (it's handed off to the publisher) and will be just as annoyed by the misprint (if not more, especially if it's a common issue) as you are. – Alexander Woo Apr 9 at 22:30
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When you say that issuing a correction looks bad, I imagine that you mean issuing an Erratum/Corrigendum. Now, these really don't reflect that badly on you and your career in the first place, but the error honestly sounds so minor that an erratum would be rather overkill. Actually, I imagine many journals might even decline publishing an erratum for such a trivial case.

However, especially if the publication was quite recent, it might be possible to correct it anyway. At least some journals are willing to make small corrections to published articles, sometimes with a small notice, sometimes accompanied by something like a Publisher's note. In such cases it's quite common to see the journal accept responsibility for errors they've introduced in the notice. It might be worth checking if the journal would be willing to do that.

  • The "small correction" option sounds ideal, if available. I'll contact the editor. I wasn't aware that this could be done without a formal erratum. You're correct, a erratum feels like overkill which essentially was the basis of my original question. I will think twice about publishing in a journal which doesn't provide author proofs in the future. – pww024 Apr 10 at 4:04
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You should inform the editor of the error just to get it on the record. Ask that a correction be issued if possible. There are probably people who will in fact misinterpret it. It is a simple thing. Just let them know.

Maybe they will improve their process in the future.

I don't understand why you suggest issuing a correction looks bad. Leaving it untended seems worse.

  • I'm suggesting a correction looks bad, it's because I'm putting up a huge sign right up front saying, "we made a sloppy mistake"--in my mind that's a negative connotation before the reader even reads a word of the paper. Is that a silly concern? Perhaps, but people can be judgmental towards sloppiness. If a serious error was made, this is justified--obviously, scientific integrity comes first. Fundamentally, I'm asking where is the line between a stylistic error (which can be overlooked) and a content error (which must be corrected). – pww024 Apr 9 at 23:57
  • Your call, of course, but the uncorrected error is also sloppy. – Buffy Apr 9 at 23:58
  • @pww024 Ideally, the journal would admit, in a correction, that the error was the fault of the typesetter, not the author. So it's not "we made a sloppy mistake" but "the typesetter made a sloppy mistake". Even if the journal won't admit that it's their error, I'd rather have people think I made a sloppy mistake, noticed it, and corrected it than have people think I made a sloppy mistake and didn't notice it (or noticed it and chose to ignore it). – Andreas Blass Apr 11 at 2:49

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