What is Proofreading?

Too often […] the notion of good English has less to do with expressing ideas clearly than with making words conform to some arbitrary pattern. — Bill Bryson, Troublesome Words


Damn it, man, I’m a proofreader, not an editor!

That’s Star Trek… Never mind.

A lot of people think the terms ‘proofreading’ and ‘editing’ are synonymous, but they are actually different things. For the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ explanation of proofreading, visit their page here. Additionally, here is what they say about why you need a proofreader.

Basically, a proofreader performs a final quality check on work before it goes to publication. The job of a proofreader is to find and correct errors left over from editing, not to make the content better. A sample of a basic proofread checklist:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Ambiguity
  • Consistency (in design, typography, spellings, etc.)
  • Adherence to house design (if supplied)
  • Misused/confusable words

How much intervention is required will be partially up to the author’s/publisher’s brief and deadline, as well as any typesetting costs to the client. The majority of clients are self-published authors or small/indie publishing houses, who are less bound by many of the factors that would apply with a large publisher. In other words, self-published authors have less to worry about!

Many self-published authors think that they don’t need a proofreader so long as they go over their work enough times. This is a big mistake. I published my own first book, after perhaps 15 edits over many years, without a proofreader. As I said: big mistake. No sooner had I received the proof copy than I started finding small errors. Just because we can update it as much as we want doesn’t mean we should. It should be as error-free as possible right from the start, and that means a proofreader. A proofreader is more than worth the cost, and any serious writer/author should be putting the pennies away for it from the second they put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

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