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I have published two conference papers at one conference in physics with two other authors and I am the first author in both articles. And I am currently in the second year of my PhD Thesis and these were my first published papers at all.

I have trouble with one of those articles and I am constantly thinking about it. The positive thing about this paper (as well as for the second) is, that it is very interesting for my scientific community and also for the authorities for decision making about a political charged topic. I used a fancy method and the results are good.

Firstly, I was satisfied with this paper. I thought it its "just" a conference paper and spending to much time for writing, wouldn't pay off, because this paper doesn't even count for my PhD-Thesis. So, all in all I was very happy with presenting it at this conference.

The bad thing is, that I was very stressed, when I wrote it. The statistical analysis took a long time and I had not much time, due to caring for my newborn child. I finished writing and correcting this paper (with the other authors) shortly before submitting it. After the reviewer mentioned a very small revision (a more detailed abstract, spelling error or a hint for a better literature reference), I recognized that three sentences within the results had to be changed and also two or three sentences within the discussion. I fixed it, showed it to my supervisor (I don't know how carefully he read it) and now it is published.

After reading it again after some time and very often, I found some mistakes, especially in the parts which I fixed lately after the revision. At first I didn't realized them, but after reading it again and again, I found more and more: A typo as well as at least three grammar mistakes, which are in my opinion not that bad and I only recognized them by reading it a lot (two of them are even in the abstract), but that doesn't makes it better (I don't have an eye for grammar). In the corrected sentences in the discussion I partially used wordings which are more common to say, but uncommon to write in science. Because its my first publication I was more focused on writing things correctly, but after asking other people, I now think, that it is not so handsome and sloppy. There are some other sloppy wordings in other parts of the paper, but I think its not that big of a problem due to the proofreaders didn't complain, but the sum of the mistakes makes me feel very bad about this paper.

Another point is the discussion: The results are great, but the discussion could have been way more precise with a better interpretation, less focus on repeating the results and a stronger focus on other literature. After rethinking it, I would have done it quite differently.

All in all I regret publishing this paper and I fear that I am in my scientific community now known for bad writing style. And another problem is, it is forever available by Google Search and it could have a significant negative influence on my career, because everybody who writes my name in Google search, will find it very easily. I think many people don't differentiate between conference papers and journal papers.

Has anybody been in a similar situation or can you give me any advice for dealing with it? I think an errata for grammar mistakes wouldn't be justifiable.

By the way: The second conference paper has got a better style.

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    Nobody will think poorly of you for a few typos and awkward language in a paper written early in your career, especially if your later papers are well written. – ff524 Apr 27 '16 at 17:30
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    As I tell my Ph.D. students, any document longer than 4 pages contains a typo. (That's not strictly true, but very close.) So don't worry about a few typos. If your field has a standard place for posting documents (like the arXiv in my field, mathematics), then, as Laurent Duval suggested, prepare a new improved version of your paper and post it there. – Andreas Blass Apr 27 '16 at 19:52
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    Don't worry too much, typos are not errors at all. However, for the future, perhaps asking an english teacher and a peer to proofread the final version of the paper would help. – Mikey Mike May 14 '16 at 14:08
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    If we were judged by the first papers, there would be no researchers... My very first paper has a typo on the first word of the abstract... – Fábio Dias May 14 '16 at 14:47
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    I guess, every researcher starts with such errors and continually evolve with writing and more critical thinking. That is what research is for me. – Coder May 14 '16 at 20:40
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I have felt the same on my first conference paper. I see two main options:

  • publish (make public) a kind of "full" erratum, the paper as you wish it should have been written (for typos and grammar), for instance on your website, or on a preprint hosting service. Make it clear in the paper that it is an improved or corrected version of the published conference paper (forr instance, highlight the modifications), shared for the sake of readers.
  • perhaps more useful for your thesis: write a journal paper with more details and discussion, updated references, using your experience. Then you can differ much more from the original paper. You might have more feedback from the reviewers, because quite often, conference papers are reviewed in a fastest way than for journals. For these reviews, you can get more improvement venues. This is why, in many domains, there is a differentiation between conference and journal papers.
  • Thanks for the comment! Due to the fact that I published it in my native language (not English), the chances are high to publish it in an international Journal. – Ole Apr 29 '16 at 11:16
  • @Ole What you can expect in a scientific career is a steady improvement of your skills. Keep that experience as a beacon, I am sure you will remember it each time you write a new paper. – Laurent Duval Apr 30 '16 at 9:55
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There is one very easy answer to your problem.

Relax. Do nothing. It's fine.

Really. Your data is good, your results are interesting, people are reading your work, and you haven't found anything particularly wrong with your science. This is more than most of us can say about our first forays into publishing.

That being said, maybe you should work on how much you let small problems get to you if you want to survive in academia. If grammar errors and awkward formulations in a published paper already make you be unable to sleep, I worry that the real setbacks that characterise academic work (experiments that are not working out, unjustly rejected papers, dozens and dozens of faculty applications that you never hear back on, ...) will do to you.

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    +1 Whoever gets hung up on really few typos is not worth worrying about. I regularly review papers with massive mistakes in the math, probably not fatal ones, but incredibly tedious to read because you have to guess what the correct statement should be. I completely agree with "Relax. It's fine." Good one @xLeitix, I'll keep that for other opportunities, too... – Captain Emacs Apr 28 '16 at 17:16
  • Thanks for your comments, xLeitix and Captain Emacs! You are right. There are enough other reasons in academia to worry about than typos. Nevertheless, I will try to end my analysis next time earlier, to invest more time in proofreading. – Ole Apr 29 '16 at 11:18
  • @Ole avec le temps va tout s'en va:) – Christina Dec 7 '17 at 15:35
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Don't worry about it. Maybe when you are 65, and a world-famous scientist, and you publish your "collected works", you can include a revised version of this paper. But until then, go forward and don't worry about the past.

  • Jajajajajaja so he has to wait until he is 65 to sleep well? :p very funny comment – Christina Dec 7 '17 at 15:31
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If you contribute to your community as a reviewer you will quickly gain some needed perspective. The average quality of conference papers is really not very high. This is why they typically don't count as publications. The purpose is to communicate recent/ongoing research results to your community and often time constraints require that these documents be less polished than archival publications. That's perfectly alright.

View these early publications for what they are and don't stress because they're not perfect. Conference papers seldom are and shouldn't be expected to be.

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