What is proofreading?
Traditionally in publishing a proofreader is the last person to go through the work before it goes to print – a fresh pair of eyes. They will check for grammar and spelling, consistency of use – particularly hyphenation – match the contents to the text pages, and much more – click here to see a more comprehensive explanation from the SfEP. More importantly what a proofreader will not do is re-write the material, as that is the job of a copy-editor. If the work has already been copy-edited then you will not want this re-done; it would be both costly and unnecessary. However, these days proofreading work is very varied and quite often what is needed is a proof-edit. This is where proofreading and copy-editing are combined. What I will always do before taking on a job is assess what is needed and discuss your requirements and your expectations.
How a proofreader works?
Most of my work is on-screen proofreading, but I can also proofread hard copy if preferred. I work in Word with Track Changes turned on or on PDFs using the Adobe Acrobat Reader mark-up symbols. It is helpful if the PDF is comment enabled, and if you are familiar with the British Standards Institution symbols, I will use stamps with these symbols. However, I am also happy to use whatever system you would prefer.
To proofread or not to proofread?
Many articles have been published which discuss the merits of proofreading, but still there are a few people out there who do not see the importance of this valuable and complex skill. A book, document, article or website that has been thoroughly proofread by a properly trained and qualified proofreader adds professional credence not only to that book, document, article or website but to the company producing it. When SRA Books published Getting Down to Business by Doug D’Aubrey and Matthew Chuck, at their book launch Matthew said,
‘And finally, to that much under-rated activity, proofreading! I must have read the draft a dozen times, and sure I found a few errors, and certainly Sue and her team did too. However, on the morning that Sue was about to send me the draft release form, which would trigger the dispatch of the draft to the printers, eagle-eyed Maria spotted a typo!
‘Now this was not buried somewhere at the bottom of page 79. Oh no no no.
‘This was on the BACK COVER!’ In the FIRST LINE of the BACK COVER!!
‘So thank you, Maria, for saving us considerable embarrassment. (That’s with 2 s’s.)’
Whilst, of course, I was pleased with this praise, it was just what any proofreader should have spotted – the word businesses on that back cover had an extra ‘s’ in the middle making three instead of two! As Matthew so expertly pointed out it is a much underrated activity, but also one that is so important and an essential part of any publishing process. Not only does a proofreader find and correct those annoying typos and spelling errors, check for consistency of style, grammar, image and table placement, they also read for sense. Many authors are so close to their work they do not read what’s actually there, but what they think should be there. Those properly trained and fresh pair of eyes make all the difference to any publication large or small, print or digital.