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Writing a paper is difficult, even for native English speakers. I strongly suggest getting your paper checked by a native English speaker before submitting it to a journal. It will save you time and effort in the long run.

Software translation

In 2006, when I first started proofreading, software translation


Figure 1. You must do most of the work.

To avoid unwanted surprises, have realistic expectations about what a proofreader can actually accomplish. The proofreader will generally make only minor adjustments to clarify meaning.

To get published, you must do most of the work; the proofreader can only give you a small boost, as shown in Figure 1.

As a proofreader reads your paper, they use their knowledge, context, the text in other parts of your paper, and various sources of information (e.g., books, websites) to make the best guess of your intended meaning.

Some guesses are obvious, but most are not. Do not expect to receive a perfect paper from the proofreader.

What to get checked

You need to decide what the proofreader should check. The most common requests are:

Items checked Cost

specific text (highlighted by the author)




main text (includes abstract and figure/table captions)


main text, figures/tables


main text, figures/tables, references


main text, figures/tables, references, responses to reviewers


main text, figures/tables, references, responses to reviewers, guidelines


When submitting your paper to a proofreader, make sure to clearly state what you want checked to avoid surprises.

Specific text

Use this option only if your paper has been checked by a proofreader before. For example, this is a second check or your paper was approved by the journal and you made only a few changes based on reviewer comments.

Some clients use this option to save money (not a good idea). As a proofreader, it feels bad to fix highlighted text and see incorrect text (not highlighted) right beside it.


Some clients want only the abstract checked. If you have the full paper, consider sending it to the proofreader as a reference. For a proofreader, text in the main paper is very useful for checking the abstract.

Main text

This is the most common request for papers submitted to a professional editing service. This check typically includes figure and table captions, but not the actual figures and tables.

Figures and tables

This request is a check of the actual figures and tables (captions are usually included in a check of the main text).

See Figures and Tables for common mistakes related to these topics.


Problems with references are usually not related to English. The main problems I have found are:

  • an inconsistent reference format

  • missing or incorrect punctuation

  • excessive number of old references (reviewers complain about this)

If you’re using reference management software (e.g., Mendeley, Zotero), this check is probably unnecessary.

Responses to reviewers

If you have received reviewer comments, it’s a good idea to get your responses checked.

See Reviewer Comments for common mistakes related to this topic.


If you have selected a target journal, it’s a good idea to ask the proofreader to check whether your paper conforms to the journal’s guidelines.

What is not checked

Proofreaders typically do not check your paper for factual correctness. That is, if you state something that is false but uses correct English (e.g., "our method is perfect"), the proofreader might leave a comment but will generally not correct the text.

Proofreaders also typically do not check the spelling of author names in reference citations, correctness of model numbers, etc. This is something you should do yourself (note that I have found many misspelled author names and incorrect model numbers).


Give sufficient time for a proofreader to check your paper. One week is usually safe for a regular paper (< 30 pages of text).

If you need your paper on May 12, set a deadline for May 11 or earlier (there might be delays).

If you need your paper before a specific time (3 pm), make sure that the proofreader knows this. I’ve had clients give me a deadline of May 12, and then at noon on May 12 they ask me why I’m not finished yet. Ideally, set the deadline for at least the day before you actually need the paper back to avoid this problem.

Story Time

I once had a client email me on a Saturday about checking her paper.

  • It was 100+ pages (thesis).

  • It was due on Monday.

  • It was her last chance to graduate.

  • She had a limited budget.

I did not accept the job.

Give the proofreader sufficient time to check your paper.

For best results, follow this two-step process:

  1. Have the manuscript carefully checked by someone who conducted the study (you or a co-author).

  2. Have the manuscript checked by a native English speaker (preferably a professional proofreader).

Step 1 (author check)

This step seems very obvious but is often skipped. Always check your own paper, even if your English level is relatively low. If multiple authors wrote the paper, at least one of the authors should check the whole paper (to ensure consistency).

Step 2 (native English speaker check)

You have three choices for this step:

  • a native English speaker who has no experience with academic papers (regular person)

  • a native English speaker who has experience with academic papers (freelance proofreader)

  • a professional editing service

Native English speaker with no experience

A regular person will likely know nothing about your field or writing a manuscript. They might even have poor writing skills. Nevertheless, they will catch some obvious mistakes and improve the flow of your paper.

The quality of the work can vary greatly. You might get lucky and find someone who will carefully read your paper, or you might get unlucky and get someone who will run spelling and grammar checks and then return your paper.

Inexperienced proofreaders are also more likely to delay your paper (they cannot accurately estimate how long a paper will take to finish) or not return it at all.

Although the low cost of having a regular person check your paper is attractive, they might actually be more expensive because your paper might need to be checked again by an experienced person.

Story Time

If your field uses special terms, an inexperienced proofreader might unintentionally change your meaning.

When I first started proofreading in 2006, the language center at a local university would print out the papers and I would correct them with a pen. I remember one paper in which I changed all "adsorb" (uncommon word) to "absorb" (common word), thinking it was a typo. Oops.

Although such mistakes are less common with computer editing, nobody is going to check every word for possible special meanings.

Carefully check all corrections made by someone not in your field.

Note that if you need a receipt (for your funding agency) or a certicate of proofreading, you will need to use a professional proofreader (see below).

Native English speaker with experience

Experienced freelance proofreaders will likely make fewer mistakes compared with an amateur. They will also be familiar with academic manuscripts and have an incentive to return your paper on time and on budget (freelance proofreaders rely on word-of-mouth marketing).

Freelance proofreaders are usually more flexible and less expensive than a professional editing company.

Professional editing company

There are many professional editing companies. I suggest using a local company that speaks your native language. Ask your colleagues about proofreading companies that they have had a good experience with.

Although professional editing companies are the most expensive option, the quality of service is typically also the highest.

Benefits include:

  • The proofreaders meet a certain standard of quality.

  • Multiple proofreaders will check your paper.

  • The proofreaders will have a lot of experience checking manuscripts written by non-native English speakers.

  • Most companies offer additional services, such as translation and journal selection.

  • Most companies have an express service (for an extra fee).

  • You will receive your paper on time.

Types of payment

Proofreading jobs are typically billed per hour or per word.

Per hour

The benefit of per hour billing is potentially lower cost if your paper requires few changes. However, I’ve seen situtations where the client thought that the paper would take 3 hours to finish but the proofreader took 10 hours to finish (this is most common with inexperienced proofreaders, who cannot accurately estimate how long a paper will take to finish). This leads to some ugly arguments about money.

Story Time

I used to do jobs billed per hour. For papers that were taking much longer than expected, I would stop work after about an hour and tell the client the situation (e.g., "It has taken me an hour to check the first two pages. The paper is 25 pages. Do you want me to keep going?").

Some authors would say "keep going" and some would say "I have a limited budget, please stop".

If you are getting billed per hour, ask the proofreader to give you progress updates if your paper is taking a long time to avoid major problems.

Per word

The benefit of per word billing is that you know the cost before work starts. Make sure that you and the proofreader are clear about which "words" are included. References are usually excluded.

Help your proofreader

In computer science, the saying "garbage in, garbage out" is used to express the idea that bad input produces bad output. This holds for proofreading.


Use simple sentences and language (see Clarity). For a proofreader, combining multiple simple (easy-to-understand) sentences is much easier than trying to figure out the intended meaning of a long sentence.

Make sure that your paper is free of mistakes not related to English. These mistakes include:

  • missing figures/tables

  • incorrectly labeled figures/tables

  • inconsistent formatting

  • logic errors

Example 1. Logic error

The heat capacity of water is higher than that of air. Therefore, the measured value was 3.05 J/K.


The second sentence does not follow from the first one (there is no "therefore" relation here).


If your manuscript has a lot of math or you just want it to look professional, LaTeX is a great option. However, LaTeX can be intimidating for proofreaders not familiar with it.

Do not give your LaTeX source files to someone who is unfamiliar with LaTeX.

  • To edit LaTeX files in MS Word with Track Changes, some features must be turned off (e.g., autocorrect, pretty quotes).

  • LaTeX markup can be very confusing to someone who has never seen it before.

Instead, convert your output (PDF file) to a Word file or ask the proofreader to annotate the PDF.

If you are submitting a LaTeX source file and its PDF to a proofreader, make sure that the PDF matches the source file. A proofreader may use the PDF to check difficult sections of text (e.g., text with a lot of markup in the LaTeX source file), so if the PDF and source do not match, mistakes might be overlooked.

Corrected paper

When you receive a corrected paper, you need to decide which corrections to accept.

If you use Track Changes in MS Word, do not click "Accept all changes". Even the best proofreaders make mistakes (all corrections are just guesses).

Story Time

Just as bad as accepting all corrections is rejecting most corrections.

I once checked a paper that required a lot of corrections as a job for the language center at a local university. A few weeks later, the author called the language center to complain that I had done a poor job because a reviewer wrote "The English needs improvement.".

I asked the author to send me the paper that they had submitted to the journal. A comparison of the submitted paper and the corrected paper revealed that the author had rejected most of my corrections.

Trust the proofreader’s corrections unless you are sure that a correction is incorrect.

Second check

When you get your paper back from a proofreader, it will likely have some "This is unclear." comments and hopefully some suggestions for correcting the corresponding text.

If possible, clarify any unclear text and send the changes back to the proofreader (you might need to pay extra for a second check; ask the proofreader or editing company about extra fees for this service).

If you are not using an editing company and there are only a few changes, consider just copy/pasting them into an email (instead of sending the whole paper). In my experience, most text is clarified after a few back-and-forth emails.

If you are using an editing company, follow their process for second checks (sometimes called "proof" checks).

Proofread paper rejected for poor English

You might get your paper checked, submit it to a journal, and then receive a comment from a reviewer about "poor English". Before blaming the proofreader, make sure that you implemented all suggested changes (see Story Time for Corrected paper). Also note that many reviewers are not native English speakers. Some will give no examples of the "poor English". Some will give examples and suggest incorrect "corrections".

For suggestions on dealing with reviewers, see the Reviewer Comments section.