Why do you need a proofreader? Here are four reasons: typos, grammar, diction, and syntax. This blog is about those innocent mistakes—typos. In any field, typos, short for typographical errors, can cost time and money, but in research and science, typos can cost you credibility as well.
It is difficult to plan, write, and publish scientific papers. Not only do you need to organize your research logically, but you also need to submit the manuscript to an appropriate journal and satisfy peer review critiques. Typos are distractions to your audience and can cause delay in publication. Even worse, typos, no matter how innocent, may cost you credibility with your audience. Why, you may ask? Surely everyone makes these mistakes, right? Yes. But the meticulous author will go through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb to try to catch these errors. A researcher may be considered lazy if the manuscript is riddled with typos. Furthermore, this perception of laziness in the writing process may shift to a conception that the scientist was also lazy during research. At best, typos cause delay or distraction, but at worst they can be embarrassing or hurt your reputation.
Here's an example from my own life that shows how a simple typo may have cost me credibility as a capable researcher. Although this example isn’t from a paper I wrote, it shows how a small typo can cause big embarrassment.
I was presenting my research at a job interview. Most of the slides were made months before and had been presented at group meetings more than once. I was in the groove; describing the why and how of my doctorate research. Everything was going well, until an audience member raised his hand and said, “Did you know you have a typo on that slide? Your group mates should have caught that.” What typo? Where? I stumbled; it took me a few moments to even find the typo. I had written a chemical formula wrong: LiAl4H instead of LiAlH4. One simple mistake and my whole presentation was thrown off.
Did this error cost me a job offer? Probably not; I made a few other mistakes that day. But it was embarrassing, and it did not convey the message that I was prepared for my interview.
Proofreading is an extremely important step for scientific and technical writing. We all make mistakes and a proofreader’s job is to find those remaining typos. If you don’t have the budget for a proofreader, make sure every author has read through the text thoroughly and ask a peer not involved in writing to take a look. Even if you think you don’t have time, don’t skip this step. Leaving easily fixed mistakes in your manuscript may cost you more than you expect.