A proofreader’s skill goes further than just being good at spelling, deeper than knowing when he should or shouldn’t use an apostrophe. At WordPerfect, we never stop at proofreading alone – copy-editing is an essential component of perfecting each and every document.
1. Speed read
On first sight of a new document, the proofreader needs to gain an overall understanding of the subject matter. The title is a good clue right from the start, it may also help to know who has written it. But often, the subject matter can only be discerned by actually reading the whole document.
It used to be that a proofreader would start with a complete read-through before marking each individual error with a blue pencil, but this is not only time-consuming, but impractical for large documents. So a skill in speed-reading is a big help, but given that “time is money”, sometimes the best start is to actually START. (I recently came across a really great tool that makes this a breeze!)
2. Correct the obvious
During this process, if the spell check tool is enabled, it will draw attention to possible typos with a red wavy line under dubious spellings. But a proofreader will never trust this tool unreservedly – it’s useful, but imperfect. Likewise, it would be foolhardy to rely on the autocorrect tool as sometimes, what looks like an error may not be. The proofreader examines each and every word on its own merits and it’s worth spending a few seconds longer on those red and green wavy underlines. Once satisfied, the spell check can be switched off to remove distractions.
3. Track Changes
Today, most proofreaders have given up the pencil and traditional proofreaders’ marks. Microsoft Word with the Track Changes tool is a much quicker and really useful way of highlighting changes in different colours, while reserving the option to reverse any of those changes with a single mouse click. (Click here for a video tutorial).
A skilled proofreader can distance him or herself from the story itself, and will notice the technical aspects of the writing; for example, wrongly placed capital letters, absence of commas, inconsistency of punctuation, double (or even triple) spaces, over-long sentences or paragraphs, even a fixation with exclamation marks!!! A copy-editor will still have the context in mind however, and ensure that any changes remain consistent with the overall story and do not detract from its meaning.
It’s not unusual for a proofreader’s job to include research. He may not be familiar with the subject-specific vocabulary so will have to spend some time researching around this particular genre or industry. The quandary over whether to favour US or UK spelling may need investigating. He will need to check with the originator of the text to discover their preference or to request a style sheet. He may need to Google a term to see what is the currently accepted spelling within a given field. Occasionally, translated text may need checking to ensure they are appropriate in the context – “false friends” can catch you out. For example, the Spanish word embarrazada does not mean embarrassed – it means pregnant!
5. Read for sense and flow
The human proofreader has the ability to come back to the story behind the words, so however technical or flowery the vocabulary, he still sees “the bigger picture” beyond the typescript.
He has an enormous data bank of words in his own mind to draw from, created from a lifetime of lessons absorbed both from reading and from personal experiences. As an example, just think about the wide choice of words available to illustrate my point: instead of using “word”, I could choose vocabulary; expressions; turns of phrase; jargon; terminology – not forgetting a whole range of borrowed foreign words that say it better than the native tongue can. They often have a certain je ne sais quoi! All of this is available to assist a skilled editor to convey a story in a way that will captivate and inspire the reader.
So this is the point where the proofreader might switch off the Track Changes tool, and alter the view to “final” so that he can read the newer version free of the distractions of the edits and comments. If the resulting review is an enjoyable free-flowing read, with no sudden halts to query a misunderstood word or phrase, then his job is almost done.
7. Turn ON the spell check
Nobody’s perfect. Proofreaders use proofreaders. So just when it looks like the document is ready to be returned to its author, the editor may well switch the spell check back on. Sometimes a typo can be innocently introduced into the context by the editor himself, so it’s a rare editor who will ever claim 100% perfection. Without poring over the whole text yet another time, any remaining issues or ambiguities are easily spotted and addressed by a once-over with the spell check.
It’s worth paying a professional to take away your pain
Rather than risking embarrassment or wasting your precious time, think about the expertise offered by a professional proofreader who will do the job in less than half the time – time better spent on the parts of your business that you love and do best.
It’s never easy to predict how much a proofreading job will cost, or how long it might take. But hopefully this has shed some light onto the complex processes that a talented proofreader applies to the work you have commissioned him to perfect.
For some DIY tips, jump over to here.