By: Meghan Bodenberg, PharmD, BCPS and Deborah A Sturpe, PharmD, MA, BCPS
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Although the original source of this well-known statement is debatable, its message is clear. First impressions count – including first impressions of one’s writing. So why not put forth your best effort before you hit “submit?” While copy editors support an author’s writing after manuscript acceptance, the manuscript must survive peer review. Manuscripts with a significant number of spelling and grammatical errors can prevent the reviewer from being able to see beyond the errors. After all, if authors do not take time to complete quality proofreading before the final submission of a manuscript, can you trust the quality of evidence being presented? Although one may question the notion that poor writing alone would cause a peer reviewer to reject a manuscript, multiple sources support the role of poor language quality, spelling and grammar errors, unclear tables and figures, and non-conformity to author guidelines as leading to negative peer reviewer decisions.1,2 Consequently, clear and concise writing is essential to achieving the final destination – publication. When a manuscript is submitted, what really happens and how can authors help assure success during each stage of the process?
Improving your writing quality before manuscript submission
Spelling, grammar, and punctuation
Relying solely on spelling and grammar checks in Microsoft Word or other software can be problematic. As noted by blogger Love2Edit,3 “spell check will not fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite!” Consider using other web-based programs to help improve your spelling and grammar. Do you struggle with conciseness or word choice? Try Grammarly. Although the basic package only includes critical spelling and grammar checks, the premium version (costing around $12 per month) helps with sentence conciseness, tone, vocabulary enhancement, and genre-specific writing style. The Writer’s Diet Test provides free, immediate feedback on writing samples of 100 to 1000 words. This tool highlights the balance of nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and non-specific terms (it, that, this, there) in the sample and uses an algorithm to detect common pitfalls of “flabby” writing.
References and in-text citations
Assuring references are correct at the time of manuscript submission contributes to success. Peer reviewers and journal editors should be able to efficiently find source information, especially if potential plagiarism flags arise within the Editorial Manager system. In particular, check for broken links to websites as these often sundown or change URL pathways. Thus, take the time to check and format your references correctly. For Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning (CPTL), this means following the guidelines from the AMA Manual of Style, 11th edition.
Check it, and check it again
Triple check your manuscript and its data to ensure accuracy. All investigators should be part of this process, not just the primary author. Also, consider asking an outside mentor to review your paper before submitting it. We often have difficulty proofing our own work because we understand it, thus someone not otherwise involved is more likely to catch conflicting data or confusing wording.
Support from the copy editing team
While peer reviewers consider the big picture of a manuscript in order to make informed recommendations to the editor, copy editing focuses on the small details after a manuscript has been accepted. The goal of copy editing is to provide a full review of the manuscript to ensure all spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and formatting issues are corrected before final publication. Copy editors also address any final errors that may impact the accuracy and quality of the manuscript. To help our pre-production team better focus on this latter issue, we ask our authors to conduct some of the copy-editing work before submitting the final revised manuscript. This checklist provides authors with step-by-step instructions on formatting the manuscript and includes the correct reference style for most reference types. Following this checklist can help prevent common problems which may cause the pre-production team to send the article back to the author. These include:
- material that is improperly referenced,
- online references that no longer exist,
- tables with incomplete data or results in tables not equaling 100%,
- and extra references that are not cited in the written manuscript.
Why we “write” the wrong
Because CPTL publishes articles ahead of print, we want to assure that each manuscript is polished when it is available for public viewing. Whether the reader is enjoying the final, print version, or uncorrected online proof, our editorial board takes pride in the quality of the journal’s body of work and recognizes our role in representing the author’s reputation. We thank you for allowing us to play such a critical role in disseminating your work and for partnering with us to make sure your manuscript is as clean as possible at peer review and final submission.
- Bordage G. Reasons reviewers reject and accept manuscripts: the strengths and weaknesses in medical education reports. Acad Med. 2001;76(9):889-896.
- Nikitina I. How Elsevier’s WebShop is helping authors avoid rejection: improving the standard of English can help manuscripts make it through to peer review. Elsevier Connect. 28 January 2016.
- Love2Edit. The dangers of relying on spell check and grammar check. Servicescape Blog. 25 April 2010.
Meghan Bodenberg is a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Advanced Experiential Education and Preceptor Development at the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Co-Associate Editor for Copy Editing at Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. Educational scholarship interests include customization of improvement plans for students having difficulties during rotations and the development of experiential programming to help students interested in postgraduate residency and fellowship training. In her free time, Meghan enjoys outdoor activities with her husband and two children, traveling, going to sporting events, and cheering on her children and their high school teams.
Deborah Sturpe is a Clinical Associate Professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and Co-Associate Editor for Copy Editing at Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. Educational scholarship interests include optimizing the use of standardized clients, performance-based examination, and critical task analysis in the Pharmacists Patient Care Process. In her free time, Deb enjoys hiking with her Australian Shepherds, Crossfit, and stand up paddleboarding.
Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning