I have a paper accepted by a journal of Elsevier, and it went under production for 3 months. Yet the production team has not been able to fix certain problems with typesetting which appeared during the proofreading. After the first month, I received the proofreading notification. The first production of my paper was really bad: a lot of errors in equations, symbols, figures and tables. So I prepared and submitted a lengthy list of request for correction, with as much information as possible.

A few days later, I received a strange email from the journal manager (who is said to be affiliated with Elsevier Global Journals Production), telling me that the production team has to ignore my request as it may cause them too much trouble. I gave a full explanation to this manager about how bad it is with the production and the request has to be processed. In the end, the manager agreed to make the corrections.

Two or three weeks later, my paper went directly online (early access), with all the typesetting problems unfixed, and even had some extra new problems. I was very worried because my paper DOI already took effect. I never heard of a paper which is already put online (for public download) can be fixed again. The journal manager apologized to me, saying that the production team was busy with other papers, but they will fix the problems and get back to me with another proofreading. Two months have passed, and I have yet to receive my second proofreading.

I fear the production team is just trying to avoid the proofreading by intentionally postponing, in an attempt to reach a point where it becomes officially impossible to make changes. As a matter of fact, my paper's official issue date is coming near, and the production team is probably already planning to have an early Christmas.


What shall I do to change the result?

NOTE 1: And NO, it is not about aesthetics.

NOTE 2: I am not trying to be a PITA. Considering that I contributed a lot to Elsevier by being a frequent and responsible reviewer and yet received a very poor production of my paper, I am simply very disappointed.

The following is a demonstration of the kind of work I receive on my own paper. An altered equation is manufactured to accurately reflect a true situation.

Original equation: enter image description here

Production: enter image description here

Concluding remarks

I would like to thank all the people who have offered me valuable suggestion. As a matter of fact, after I posted this question here yesterday, I received a notification email, that I have been waiting for, for proofreading today. There are still many unsolved problems, but at least it is a good start. I would like to think my post somehow helped change the situation for the better.

My OP and comments might have caused some confusion and probably even dissatisfication as my posts usually do. It is probably because: I did not spend hours writing down every bit of details about the whole situation; I am not a native user of English language. But maybe most of all, because I was a little bit angry and that could be contageous. Therefore, my apologies. On the other hand, there is really no need for some of the repliers to call me a ranter. It is a hurtful language. I get that you are experts on this and many more forums and can't wait to show people your expertise. However,You really did not help and you have wasted your time. Please do yourself a favor and leave me alone.

About my attitude toward Elsevier, I'm not saying Elsevier this and that. It is probably one of the oldest publishers around, and probably the biggest contributer to dissemination of knowledge (its pricing policy being another matter). I am saying what it is: they messed up my paper and the first thing their production team did is to persuade me to give up trying to make corrections. I have worked with almost all the major publishers, and never have I encountered such a situation. To Elsevier from a contributor, you should hire more people for your production team, and I don't know, pay them more?

Lessons learned:

  1. Don't expect the Elsevier production team to look into your TeX file, such as noticing the specified width/height of figures. You need to deliver a foolproof source package to them. In particular, Set BB size to actual figure size in the paper (ghostscript could do the job).

  2. Elsevier production team doesn't like table cell shadings, not even non-cosmetic shadings (It should probably be put down in the instruction).

  3. Elsevier team is not very good with math fonts. One should probably write an instruction of the symbols used in his/her paper.


The manager got back to me again, much quicker this time, with an update. And they did the cell shading for me this time. Just so you know they didn't consider cell shading as "definitely violating" any standards. Not that I encourage people to use cell shading.

Update in 2018

I had the chance to work with the same journal again this year. I have to say the situation with the production team has improved dramatically! They respond much more quickly and the proofreading is much more professional (the software they use seem to have improved too). Many thanks to them (although I could not and probably should not name the journal) and Elsevier for the fine service they provide now.

This result is made possible, probably also because of the extensive measures I took to pre-process all figures, which I'd like to share here:

As most people know, transparency is usually flattened before the final production. However, hand in transparent figures directly to publishers will usually cause unforeseen results, due to the software incompatibility. My suggestion would be to manually reduce your figures to only two layers, one with all vector graphics, the other below it containing a rasterized version of all transparent objects (along with other raster contents). It is also suggested to simplify the vector graphics for smaller file size and faster onscreen generation. It might help to emphasize this to the production team too.

It occurs to me that figure sizing as in \includegraphics[width=...,height=]{figure} are sometimes unfortunately ignored in production. Therefore, it is suggested that one compiles all his or her figures separately, using \documentclass[multi=< environment name for starting a new page >,preview]{standalone} so that the figures are properly resized before being inserted back into the paper using \includegraphics{figure}, i.e., without size specification.

Hope that helps.

  • 14
    Is there any analogue of arXiv for your subject? It wouldn't be the first time that a corrected version of a published paper is posted on the arXiv... Dec 15, 2016 at 1:01
  • 60
    The production team doesn't care whether you indulge them or not (they are probably subcontractors working out of India, for a compensation that is ridiculous and completely unconnected to your feedback). What you gain is that readers can read your paper in the form you intended it to be read, and the uselessness of Elsevier is once again revealed for all to see. I don't know if Elsevier will eventually learn, but at least the scientific community will have a marginally easier job sending them packing if they don't. Dec 15, 2016 at 1:17
  • 39
    This will unfortunately not solve your immediate problem, but if you are dissatisfied with how Elsevier has treated your work (which you presumably gave them for free) I encourage you to join the ongoing boycott: thecostofknowledge.com
    – Anonymous
    Dec 15, 2016 at 2:53
  • 31
    The author works for free, the production team is a bunch of underpaid subcontractors, … But where do the journal subscription fees go? Dec 15, 2016 at 2:56
  • 7
    Are these purely typesetting problems, like not making variables italic, mixing serif and sans-serif, etc.? Or is it something that changes the meaning of what you wrote, like leaving off minus signs, not putting the exponent in a superscript, missing variables, etc.?
    – Szabolcs
    Dec 15, 2016 at 7:49

5 Answers 5


You could try contacting the editor in chief of the journal to see if they could get the problem fixed. This worked for me when I had similar problems with a paper last year.

  • 3
    +1. When reading the OP, I (for some reason) assumed that the EiC had already been contacted. If he hasn't, that's a really good step. Dec 15, 2016 at 1:19
  • 1
    Indeed, you should contact the editor of the journal. It's their reputation at stake as well. Dec 15, 2016 at 4:33
  • 2
    I agree with this suggestion, especially because the production folks (or at least their leader) probably have to deal with this editor on a continuing basis, whereas they might never see you again. Dec 15, 2016 at 5:47
  • 2
    Thank you for your reply. As you have guessed, I haven't contacted the EiC yet, because I was following a logic that this has nothing to do with EiC. But I have changed my mind.
    – Troy Woo
    Dec 15, 2016 at 8:37
  • I had a similar experience (with Springer though), except I could notice the problems only by looking at the published paper. Contacting the EiC was helpful, my paper was entirely republished with the errors corrected (it is considered an erratum though, which seems to put the blame on me and bothers me a bit, but at this point it was probably unavoidable). Dec 17, 2016 at 12:57

Based on your comments, the typesetting problems are not just about ugly formatting, but they actually change the meaning of the article (and significantly increase the chance that people will misread it).

This is not explained clearly in your question.

Did you explain it clearly to the journal manager?

He might think that you are a perfectionist who is being a PITA because you want everything to look perfect. If he does think so, he would still be wrong, but the main issue here is how to convince him to correct the problems immediately.

Do not say: "The typesetting is all wrong!", like you did here. Typesetting is not the first priority.

Instead communicate clearly that "The errors introduced during the proofreading change the meaning of the article. The changed statements in the proof are plainly incorrect, and do not match my manuscript."

If you don't get anywhere with the journal manager, then talk to the editor. Emphasize that this is not just about formatting, but the meaning of the paper has been corrupted.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed such problems myself: whoever typeset the formulas had about zero understanding of basic mathematics and mathematical typesetting. Not only did they break all math typesetting conventions, making the formulas hard to read, but they actually changed the meaning of the formulas.

  • 6
    Actually in the comments, it seems like OP is simply unhappy about the cosmetics of the final paper.
    – Cape Code
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:03
  • 5
    @CapeCode His response to my question wasn't very clear, but he did say: "They ... have different glyphs ... they don't know how to make a table with cell shadings (not for cosmetic purpose, but for highlighting some entries).". Most of the comment sounds like a rant, and doesn't answer directly to my question, so you may be right: It is possible I misinterpreted his answer. If he was communicating with the journal in the same way as he is here, it is entirely possible that the journal manager didn't understand why fixing the problems is essential ...
    – Szabolcs
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:07
  • 1
    I agree, it is not clear if it is mostly about cosmetics. Also, one can argue that if simple formatting differences or some shading significantly influence the meaning, maybe the presentation of the paper was not the best. Off course, if equations were altered etc it is a problem, but if "a" written with 3 different sans-serif fonts represents 3 entirely different variables in manuscript, maybe there is a lesson to learn for the writer of the manuscript, too.
    – Greg
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:33
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    @Greg I have seen formula typesetting messups that you just wouldn't believe. $\bar x$, $\mathbf{x}$ and $x$ are all clearly different to someone who uses math. It's not at all unusual to use these variations even in the same formula. Yet I have seen the typesetter randomly leave off angle brackets, overbars, and pay no attention to italic vs roman bold (which is commonly used to distinguish e.g. vectors from scalars in some fields).
    – Szabolcs
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:38
  • 3
    Given that publishers justify a good deal of their price by the cost of typesetting the papers, I would expect from them that at least their typesetting does not make the paper look worse than what the author submit, and this is not being a PITA (what ever that means). Dec 17, 2016 at 13:01

Independently from whether you can get Elsevier to fix the problems that they introduced, my recommendation would be to take your own version of the paper (the one that you produced yourself, without the additional errors) and deposit that version to an open repository, e.g., arXiv. (Depending on the journal, it is probably possible to do this while respecting the copyright transfer agreement that you may have signed.) If you use arXiv, it's probably a good idea to fill in the DOI field (to keep the link with the Elsevier version), and indicate in the comments field, e.g., that the deposited version is free of publisher-introduced errors.

That way, if Elsevier doesn't fix the problems in their version, at least you can direct your readers to the arXiv version. And even if Elsevier fixes them, you get the added benefit that readers who are not subscribed to Elsevier journals can read and cite your work. :)

  • 1
    @TroyWoo: elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/sharing says that the "Accepted manuscript" (i.e., your version of the article, integrating feedback from peer-review, but without publisher-added changes such as the errors you point out) can be shared immediately (no embargo) on arXiv (and in different ways also), under some realistic requirements (in particular, CC-BY-NC-ND license).
    – a3nm
    Dec 16, 2016 at 0:25
  • 1
    @TroyWoo That is a good idea of course, but why not also do it now, for the paper you were mentioning in your question ? :-)
    – Ted
    Dec 16, 2016 at 0:28

From your comments:

It is a big understatement when I say typesetting problems. They don't understand alphabets have different glyphs, and that figure size in the paper is not the same as the BB sizes (I was using LaTeX), and they don't know how to make a table with cell shadings (not for cosmetic purpose, but for highlighting some entries). They don't know how to typeset a multi-line equation correctly.

Elsevier provides some really good support for LaTeX users. The elsarticle class is pretty nice and they have some good documentation. While they allow any package in TeXLive and custom user macros, their instructions say:

  • Use the standard layout or keep layout changes to a minimum. (Custom layout will be removed.)

  • Keep it simple. (Advanced constructions with for example TikZ or pstricks will be rendered as images.)

Looking at what seem to be your issues

They don't understand alphabets have different glyphs

Fonts in LaTeX are a pain. Not every "font" supplies every glyph in every typeface. If you are using a font like Computer Modern or Latin Modern, you should hopefully be okay. As you do more advanced things (and changing the font is "more advanced") you violate the keep it simple instruction. Ideally, only use fonts/glyphs that you have either seen in other articles in that journal or are explicitly mentioned in the author instructions. If the journal has done it before, tell/show the editor the example. If it is something you have not seen before tell the editor something along the lines of it appears that in your system these two glyphs [tell them the glyphs] do not look that different, what can we do to make it easier for the reader.

figure size in the paper is not the same as the BB sizes

The instructions are clear about how wide the columns are in the journal layout. Bounding boxes are a real pain and not every program outputs images with reasonable bounding boxes. Ideally your bounding box should be tight to the figure content and exactly the same size as the column width. If your bounding box is not the same size as the column width and/or tight to the figure content, the editor/typesetter needs to make a choice. Again politely explaining why the image needs to be exactly the desired size (although it is not clear to me why this would be true), would be helpful.

they don't know how to make a table with cell shadings (not for cosmetic purpose, but for highlighting some entries).

Shaded cells in tables definitely violates the keep it simple instruction. Most style guides I have seen use footnotes in cells to highlight them. This obviously changes the content of the article. You should make sure that elements of your table match things that you have seen in other articles in the journal.

They don't know how to typeset a multi-line equation correctly.

They have some rules, but breaking equations is difficult. Since you know the column width, you can/should put the line breaks in manually.

  • 4
    One would expect from a well-established publisher charging a lot the typeset articles that the typesetting is handled professionally, which includes not leaving the burden of complying with the journal style on the author, and asking him in the galley proof about any choice they had to make whether this choice is ok with the intended meaning. I don't get that one would find it reasonable that the author should spend hours to ensure nothing wrong happens to her paper: what is the subscription money for then? Dec 17, 2016 at 13:16

The typical typesetting process, at least in my experience with Elsevier journals, is that the whole article will be re-typed from scratch. Large publishers usually use commercial typesetting software (i.e. not LateX) that are more appropriate for large scale publishing and match all the other steps in the production process.

You might have strong opinions about the cosmetics of your paper, but by submitting your work to a journal you need to accept that they have their own design and typesetting standards.

If errors effectively affect the meaning, then contacting the editor is the best course of action. The production team does not have the scientific background to understand what you wrote.

  • 7
    "Large publishers usually use commercial typesetting software (i.e. not LateX)" - interestingly, comments on this answer suggest Elsevier actually does use LaTeX internally at least for some of its publications. Dec 15, 2016 at 12:17
  • 7
    Note that you can take Latex, change one single line in its source code, and declare the result to be closed-source "commercial typesetting software". The only legal requirement is that you don't label it as Latex. Dec 15, 2016 at 14:37
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    "The typical typesetting process, at least in my experience with Elsevier journals, is that the whole article will be re-typed from scratch." That's a major part of the problem. In case of mathematics articles, it is a colossal waste of money that does nothing to improve the final result. Dec 15, 2016 at 20:13
  • 3
    Also, typefaces matter a lot in mathematics. You can have the same letter appear in the same paper in 6 different typefaces, each having a distinct meaning that is not replaceable by the others. If the typesetters fail to recognize this, they are not doing their job. (I'm less keen on storing semantical information in shading in tables; bad printers may make it completely illegible.) Dec 15, 2016 at 20:17
  • 4
    @CapeCode I meant to suggest that Elsevier's "commercial typesetting system" might as well be a slightly customized version of Latex, for what we know. Dec 16, 2016 at 12:46

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