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I am going to submit a paper in these days. I dedicated to it a lot of time, and a lot of effort to check that all the theoretical results in it are correct. Anyway, I am still afraid of having written something wrong without even realizing it, as the deadline is very sharp.

So my question is: how common is in the academia to find submitted papers with minor errors? If there is a minor error that is not invalidating the results, will the paper be rejected, even if the content is considered interesting?

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    Quite common. Try your best to find them, but it will usually not be a big deal for the review.
    – Bitwise
    May 14, 2016 at 14:28
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    After some time working on the same paper, it gets increasingly difficult to catch small errors, IMHO. It is like you aren't actually reading the text, but recalling it from memory... May 14, 2016 at 14:45
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    It's pretty common. As a reviewer I try to be lenient but it can be irritating if there are a lot of them or they are things that would have been caught by a spell check. May 14, 2016 at 16:39
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    I've found (not minor) errors on hugely cited articles (>100 cites). I've even contacted the authors about these errors. Until now, no one cared enough to issue an errata.
    – Gabriel
    May 14, 2016 at 22:25
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    >100 citations in less than 15 years. In my field (astronomy), I call that huge.
    – Gabriel
    May 15, 2016 at 20:33

5 Answers 5

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That's what peer review is there for: to tell the author about the minor, but correctable mistakes in the paper.

The way I see it is that, of course, I spend a lot of time writing my papers and making sure that everything is correct. But pragmatically, you will have to come to terms with the fact that no paper will ever be perfect. There comes a point where you just have to take the plunge, submit it, and hope for the best.

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It is very common for published papers to have still minor errors. Some are sometimes even introduced during the publishing process. So yes, submitting a paper with errors is common too. When submitting to a conference with website closing at a precise time, I do check (and find) errors up to the last minute.

Errors can be irritating to the reviewers. Generally, if they are minor and rare, they are not a cause for rejection, but can be a catalyst. Take a borderline acceptable paper. When the reviewer has 10 of them to review fast (for a conference for instance), it can be accepted if error-free, and rejected (with basically the same content) if containing a proportion of errors.

Clean papers are generally appreciated, reviewers may feel the authors have done some effort to help them review.

As it is difficult to re-read again a paper that you have written, suggestions:

  • use your co-authors generously, make them explain to you the theory you have written,
  • use your colleagues, friends or family, they can have a critically eye on what you cannot see anymore, notations undefined, etc.
  • read the paper backward, aloud.
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As long as your concept remains sound and your results are verifiable, it's a good chance your paper will get selected. The basic job of the peer-review process is to assess the concepts theoretically.

If there are minor mistakes that caught the reviewers' eye, it would be more possible that you will be asked for a minor revision as long as the overall concept remains intact. Otherwise, if you happen to find such errors later by yourself, you may make the edit in the camera-ready paper.

Having stated above, there are a wide range of journals and hence a diverse range of reviewers. The strictness of evaluation differ from one reviewer to another. Some won't even bother to evaluate results as long as the flow of concepts seem fine to them. It will take more than carefully evaluated results to get through some others. So, as Bangerth stated, hope for the best.

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Almost all math papers have minor errors (e.g. sign errors, misphrased definitions, a wrong entry in a table, using different conventions in one part of the paper than another, etc.).

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The phrase "in the academia" in your question needs clarification. Papers submitted in the Humanities would be expected to be error-free; in the Social Sciences, some tolerance for minor errors may be tolerated; in the Sciences, many universities will allow considerable latitude in quality of English, provided always that the science itself is trenchantly clear. Scientists who are not good writers will often hire grad students in the English Dept. to proofread and edit the text of their papers. Fees for such editing services are modest, and the fact that the English grad student probably knows nothing about the science, does not affect his/her ability to tidy up the text.

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    "the fact that the English grad student probably knows nothing about the science, does not affect his/her ability to tidy up the text" - I beg to differ. May 14, 2016 at 12:57
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    I think the OP was talking about errors in the content, not in the language. May 15, 2016 at 11:52
  • @.Stephan K, "Differ" for what reason? I taught in and was Head of the Communication Dept.in a major Technology Institute for 17 years. Every technology required one and in some cases two years of Communication courses as an integral part of a Diploma or Degree. Our staff were experts in English. They supervised, guided, and finally graded major technical projects and detailed complex technical reports for their students, They were NOT experts, and in many cases had only basic knowledge of the technologies they taught into. Their contributions to students' scientific reports was huge.
    – clark
    May 17, 2016 at 4:15

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