Demystifying Proofreading

Getting a story or document “proofread” holds a certain mystery as the lines between beta reading, proofing and editing are often blurred and misunderstood. There are several stages a manuscript enters on its way towards submission or publication. After the author has acted upon the suggestions of their beta readers and self-edited, sending the work to a proofreader to review before it is handed to their editor will ensure that their editor can focus on structure and elements without being distracted by grammatical errors. With editors fees normally being charged per hour, minimizing lower level, time wasting tasks will maximize the skills the editor has to offer. A proofreader’s fees are generally less than an editor, due to the type of checks and tasks required and is often a fixed fee, rather than an hourly rate.

Proofreading can be defined as identifying and correcting typographical and grammatical errors. A professional proofreader will check the work a few times, looking for different aspects each sweep. These include checks in:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Name, word and term consistency. A proofreader will ensure that a characters name is spelled the same way each time, that the author has consistently capitalized specific words or terms.
  • Layout. Proofreaders check that font choice and size along with the page layout remains the same across the entire document.
  • Style guides. Often submissions to literary agents or competitions have very strict style guides to adhere to. A proofreader can ensure that these have been followed.
  • Dependent upon the length of the document, checking that the table of contents match with page numbers.   

It’s difficult for an an author to do a thorough proofread of their own work as often they are too close to the text, story and characters and will overlook errors without realizing it. A fresh pair of eyes will spot inconsistencies and mistakes quickly.

It is important for the author to have clear communication with their proofreader to outline the expectations they have for proofing the manuscript. Generally, a proofreader will read the document quickly and jot down questions and queries they may have arising from the first sweep.  Often these notes are inserted into the document as comments using Word Track Changes.  It is up to the author to address these queries and to accept or reject any alterations made to the original manuscript.   

A quick Google search will turn up pages of proofreaders with varying fees. Personal recommendations through your writers groups, or the writing professional body in your state are better methods of sourcing a reliable proofreader than choosing a random service based on an attractive website. Most countries have a society of editors and proofreaders which can be contacted for qualified professionals.

Many authors believe that proofreaders only check for grammatical errors.  Whilst this is a basic element of the role, a good proofreader has a grasp on a wide range of topics, has an extensive vocabulary and the ability to express ideas and images concisely. Not only do they need to be both tactful and confident in order to challenge an author on word choices, a proofreader needs to disciplined with their time and be able to deliver their skills with a quick turnaround.


7 thoughts on “Demystifying Proofreading

  1. Exactly! I love how you broke this down. I know so many writers who do this wrong, fixing grammar before content.

    Sharing on Twitter with my followers!

  2. Thank you so much for covering the issue of expectations (also for the rest of the excellent article). The three minimum specs an author should mention in the initial contact with a proofreader (or editor, for that matter) are:

    1. How many words
    2. When you need it back
    3. What you expect the reviewer to do

    Also, some proofreaders will quote a flat fee if you send them a chapter as a sample–this can reduce some of the “risk” for both parties.

    Thanks again for such a valuable post.

  3. Thank you. It is so true that it is almost impossible to see the errors on a page we have written ourselves.

  4. Great post that defines the role of the proofreader as differentiated from that of the editor – and why a writer should hire a proofreader.

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