Typographical Errors

September 17, 2015


I have never understood this nonsense. Ever. What do typographical errors on a manuscript or grant application have to do with the quality of the science or the scholarship. The thinking?

Copy editors can catch the typos in manuscripts.

Grants? You are on your own risking a failure to communicate your points. But a couple of typos leading some jackwagon to decide they can’t trust the science based on this? Please.

32 Responses to “Typographical Errors”

  1. Pippso Says:

    If you are careless in how you present your science chances are you also are careless in the way you do your science


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    On what basis do you conclude this? Is there any evidence whatever for it? Are there other, better indicators as to the “way you do your science”?


  3. Anka Says:

    I will say that I participated in a review of a manuscript that had such poor grammar and spelling as to be nearly illegible. Surmising that it was written by a non-native speaker of English, we sent it back with minimal comments on the science and asked that it be edited by an English speaker before resubmission. Seriously – this thing was so bad that in some places the meaning of a given sentence could only be guessed at.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    That sounds well beyond anything describes as typos to me.


  5. Laffer Says:

    Sounds like DrugMonkey does sloppy science. What about poorly assembled figures? Doesn’t that say something about the science, or is that only if there is evidence of fraud. The details matter, whether they’re in the text that should have been read by someone who gives a shit, or if they’re in the figures. Why should I correct your piece of shit if you can’t be bothered to?


  6. Mikka Says:

    I don’t think it should be a factor for the reviewer, as it may significantly bias against non-native speakers. But as an author I make damn sure there are no typos to avoid subconcious priming of the reviewers. In a nutshell, seeing one insignificant error may subconciously predispose the reviewer to seek additional errors and these will be more likely to be considered significant.


    And as other comments have made clear, the predisposition is blatantly conscious in some reviewers.


  7. Mikka Says:

    And just to drive my point home, I subconSciously made two typos in my comment, so all you ortography nazis can go ahead and call it poppycock.


  8. serialmentor Says:


    1. Copy editors don’t exist anymore. Most journals these days publish the drivel you submit, typos and bad grammar and all. Quality control on the author side has never been more important.

    2. At a minimum, a document that was prepared without care reflects a mindset of doing some aspects of science (the writing) without care. The rest of the work may have been done with or without care, we can’t know. But the one data point we have (the writing) doesn’t instill confidence.

    My personal experience, as a computational biologist, is that people who write sloppy manuscripts also tend to write sloppy code and have their data poorly organized. I don’t know about benchwork, since I don’t do that, but writing papers and writing code is sufficiently similar that one is informative of the other.


  9. Pinko Punko Says:

    I will say this, BSDs writing their grants 1 day before deadline and having them be a mess will sort of get excused- meaning there will always be handwringing on that point whereas science will still get engaged with. The sloppy ms argument is likely another sliding scale where unequal application of standards allows other bias to creep in.


  10. genomicrepairman Says:

    Sloppy science because of a few typos, that’s painting with some broad brushstrokes.


  11. Psyc Girl Says:

    I clarified in further tweets that I meant 1) a LOT of typos or 2) glaring mistakes. The example I gave was a table that referred to variables not in the manuscript. Clearly copied and pasted from a previous paper and not updated. And yes, that makes me question the quality of the science. I find it interesting you think (if I am following correctly?) this is okay for manuscripts but not okay for grants (although perhaps now that I have clarified I meant more than a few typos you would agree with me, I don’t know). I certainly didn’t expect my tweets to lead to as much convo as they have – very interesting to see the range of feelings about this. Thanks for the post about it and a place for comments/further discussion


  12. kalevala Says:

    It’s the height of cultural prejudice to assume that an impeccable grasp of the arcane whims of spelling in the English language is a hallmark of Good Science. I’d like to see how these people would do trying to write about their science in Navajo, Nivkh, or even Finnish.


  13. becca Says:

    Personally, I judge people’s science based on whether their #sobtember tweets give precise times.


  14. Jonathan Badger Says:

    I’ve been more forgiving of English grammar mistakes in manuscripts and bad pronunciation in seminars after I worked for a few years in Quebec. Not that French compares to non-Indoeuropean languages in difficulty for native English speakers, of course, but a *lot* of the arrogance over such mistakes comes from monolingual Americans who have never had to express themselves in a foreign language themselves.


  15. MoBio Says:

    @ DM: many journals still have copy editors and one of the things I’ve noticed (which is a rather arcane issue) is the use/nonuse of the Oxford comma. For those of you who resonate with these details of English I offer up this amusing and informative article ‘Confessions of a comma queen’


    When y’all have time –read and enjoy


  16. Dr Becca Says:

    I think it is VERY dangerous to let arrogance about perfect grammar/typography influence your appraisal of the science. Your job as a reviewer is to assess the quality of the science that is in front of you, not whether you imagine the authors were precise in their pipetting.

    If a paper is so poorly written that I can’t understand the science then I send it back saying exactly that. If there are typos and grammatical errors but the science is comprehensible, then I ignore the errors and review the science. I will recommend that it be proofread by a copy editor, but copy editing is not my job, and using a copy editor’s criteria as some sort of proxy for the quality of the science is straight up wrong.


  17. The example I gave was a table that referred to variables not in the manuscript. Clearly copied and pasted from a previous paper and not updated.

    Sounds like you have no fucken clue what a “typographical error” is. Hint: it is an error in TYPING. To further clarify:

    “These studis establish for the first time a mloecular mechanism for…”

    typographical error

    “These study establishes for first time molecular mechanisms…”

    grammatical errors

    “a table that referred to variables not in the manuscript”

    substantive errors of content


  18. Established PI Says:

    There are people with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences who have particular problems with typos and punctuation. Spell-checkers don’t always catch everything, especially with scientific terms, and can introduce new errors. Give them a break – if you can make sense of the manuscript or grant, just review it and let them know they need to eliminate some errors.


  19. Noncoding Arenay Says:

    I agree -it is annoying and I just send it back to the editor with comments on the language, especially if it wasn’t clear what the authors were trying to convey. What if the grad student did good science, but the mentor wrote a bad (in this case, typos) manuscript? Would you still judge the science based on typos? Ask yourself that question next time.

    You might counter with the argument that the grad student must have seen the final version. I know of people (read PIs) that modify even the *final* version and then upload it without further review. I caught a few embarrassing typos in a manuscript once that one of my mentors uploaded after revising the final version with some last minute changes without informing the other authors. I pointed those out to them when I got a copy of the final-final version a few days later and we corrected and resubmitted the manuscript.


  20. AScientist Says:

    What annoys me are reviewers who fail to bother to address any substantial idea in the paper, but have time to list every typo they find. Knock it off people.


  21. my one cent Says:

    Sorry, but I have to respond to the comment that a typographical error is distinct from an error of content. This may be true in certain cases and for certain fields, but if a typographical error occurs in a mathematical equation, then it immediately becomes an error in content.

    These sorts of errors are not trivial matters. While experienced researchers can sometimes recognize that a given equation is missing a factor, or has a parameter squared instead of cubed, others (especially students) can get seriously thrown off by small errors in a few key equations or a small number of mixed-up variable names. Thus I think the distinction between “substantive errors” and “minor typos” is not always so clear-cut.


  22. Pippso Says:

    everybody defending typos and craps alike in ms and grants.. what happened to the world I used to know?
    sloppy sloppy people


  23. bagger vance Says:

    Is Drugmonkey a robot who doesn’t really “get” people, or a sullen teen who dresses and spells the way he wants to and doesn’t “care” what people think about him based on appearance?

    As a grad-student I had exercise in homework grading with some GSAs from another department where they apparently didn’t have many ESL students, as I had far far more lenient standards about how the students wrote. Still, even I know the utility of making a good first impression.


  24. Newbie PI Says:

    If the science is great and exciting, one can overlook some typos. If the results are mediocre or not interesting, you had better submit a perfect manuscript, or your reviewers are going to quickly become annoyed.


  25. jmz4 Says:

    If the typos don’t interfere with comprehension, I don’t think it matters. It does make me think poorly of the journal, though.


  26. […] even generated a post over at Drug Monkey’s blog, where he disagreed with me. It has been interesting to see the different perspectives on this topic, as well as experience the […]


  27. Anonymous Says:

    This is ridiculous! If someone writes a manuscript referring to figures or tables that do not exist, variables that are missing from the text, or claiming that certain figures show something that they in fact do not, etc. — how can this not be an indicator of someone who cuts corners as a scientist? Because writing up your results is part of doing science, no? And these kinds of errors have nothing to do with native vs. non-native speakers, etc. They tell me that you are sloppy and don’t give a shit about your paper. So therefore, neither do I.

    And if I had to write a paper in Finnish, because it was recognized as the default language of science, you can be damn sure that I would suck it up and master it or engage someone to help me instead of whining about the “arcane whims of spelling” in Finnish. That’s not how I became fluent in 3 languages, which is a huge deal in the US but not that exceptional in many other parts of the world.


  28. jmz4 Says:

    What you and psyc girl are referring to (and as she later stated) are not really classified as typos. Misspellings, inappropriate apostrophes, etc, are typos. They’re errors in typing. Errors from copy and pasting, or failure to update a figure are not really typos, in the way most of us here that disagree with psyc girl seem to understand them. Most people seem to agree that is bad. But a couple its instead of it’s and there’s instead of theirs really shouldn’t throw you off too much.


  29. Anonymous Says:

    @jmz4: It’s all a matter of degree, isn’t? In her original tweet, she said “many typos in a manuscript.” So many is not a couple or even a few. “Many” typos indicates laziness. Reviewers are not so supposed to be your proof-readers; authors should take care of that *before* they submit their MS.


  30. drugmonkey Says:

    Let us be very clear though.

    Psyc Girl apparently meant far more than typos. However, I wouldn’t really have bothered to jump into this if this were not a common statement from people who really do mean typographical errors and other minor slop. It is a viewpoint that I do not grasp, this logic that somehow letting a few typos go past means that the science is bad (and conversely that a well-proofed manuscript means the science is good).


  31. Adam Says:

    It could be the case that carelessness in proofreading is directly related to carelessness in science, but it could also be inversely related (i.e., with a limited amount of time and resources, someone might choose to spend the time and care to perfect the experiment, rather than perfect the manuscript). As usual, it’s probably unwise to generalize.


  32. jmz4 Says:

    ” It’s all a matter of degree, isn’t?”
    -Yes, your own personal tolerance for “many” will definitely vary. I know for a fact that I don’t catch typos as frequently as some other people, both in my own and others’ writing. So Psyc girl might see an absolutely riddled manuscript where I might spot one or two.


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