I am often asked the following questions:
What is proofreading?
What does a proofreader do?
Are you a proofreader or copyeditor? Or do you do both? What is the difference?
Tall Tartan Talks here … This blog post answers those questions.
Do I need proofreading or copyediting?
Proofreading is checking for errors in writing. See below for tips for proofreading your own writing materials.
The tips are aimed at freelancers and authors. Indeed, for anyone who writes. You might even be a teacher who writes reports … (I speak as a recovering teacher.)
I will start with the traditional publishing process. How do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into this workflow?
If you are a self-publishing author, the procedure is a little different and less complicated, with fewer people involved.
In traditional publishing this process is as follows:
- Planning. An author will have planned a concept for a book which will get commissioned by a publisher. This could be fiction or non-fiction. The publisher will have questions: Who is the intended audience? When is it needed by? How will it be published?
- First draft. There will be a rough, unfinished first draft. The important thing is to get all the ideas included. The finer details and polishing come later.
- Development. Editorial input means some details may be cut and/or moved around to fit the concept and make a structure for the book. It may also be adapted for clearer expression.
- Final draft. The book will be in a much more finished state, although there will be more editorial work to do.
- Copyediting. This stage is preparing the manuscript for publication and tailoring it to the needs of the audience. The copyeditor will ensure consistency of style, readability, and accuracy. They improve the flow and tone of the text.
- Design. Either an editor or typesetter will prepare the layout of the document by cutting and fitting the text using software like Indesign.
- Proofreading. Proofreading gives text the final polish. A proofreader will carry out an objective check to ensure there are no glaring errors. The manuscript should be as error-free as possible.
- Publication. The book is finally sent out into the world in print and/or electronic format. Editors may still be involved by implementing any changes to future editions.
Recently, developments in self-publishing mean that an author has more choice about publishing their book without the need for a traditional publisher. It has become easier to self-publish. This doesn’t mean, though, that an editor or proofreader isn’t needed …
What is copyediting?
What does a copyeditor do? Copyediting is dealing with the raw text: formatting the book to prepare it for publication. The headings, paragraphs, and any tables and figures will be formatted for the designer; spelling patterns applied (UK, US, or other English); grammar and punctuation styles applied; cross-referencing of text and images; and checking the text for accuracy and sense to ensure consistency of style.
The publisher may provide a style sheet or house guide.
The manuscript will be sent to the typesetter who will format the book for printing as a paper publication, then, further perhaps, use software to format the manuscript for digital publication, e.g. on e-reader, such as Kindle.
What is proofreading?
What does a proofreader do? Proofreading is working on the final manuscript just before it is published. It could involve checking all page elements and styles have been correctly and consistently applied; checking hyperlinks work; that the table of contents and index are formatted consistently; plus a final sweep for errors, including inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation grammar and sense.
Catching errors at proofreading stage, even tiny ones, is cause for a happy dance. Imagine finding an italic full stop when it should be roman (upright). In summary, a proofreader will find anything that trips up the reader.
Non-fiction has different elements to fiction. Editors and proofreaders may specialise in one or the other. Punctuating character dialogue is a major feature of fiction.
Further, each genre of fiction, e.g. romance, science fiction, thriller, will have specific elements which the editor or proofreader will check have been included.
Here are tips for proofreading your own writing before you click Send or Publish. Consistency is key.
Errors creep in when you edit your text and when you’ve changed your mind about the order of words in a sentence. I should know – it has happened to me more times than I care to say, especially when writing a blog post …
When I write a blog post I write it first in a Word document. After a couple of days away, I come back to it afresh, and copy and paste it in to my WordPress site. I find errors easily this way as I see the writing on my website with fresh eyes.
Everything I learned about proofreading I learned from the highly regarded CIEP (see the website link above). I trained extensively to give validity to my freelance business.
- Read it aloud.
- Read it backwards from the end. Errors become glaring.
- Change the colour background of the text. (The default colour white isn’t always helpful.)
- Change the font to a serif font.
- Check each sentence for full stops, etc. It’s surprising how often they get forgotten as you edit your words.
- Don’t try to proofread everything at once. Read for errors, then read for sense. Do a pass for each element you are checking, e.g. headings, page numbers.
- Use the ratio 20:20:20 for general eye health – after 20 minutes of work, look away from the screen for 20 seconds, to a distance of 20 metres (e.g. looking out of the window). Your eye muscles will thank you.
- Leave it alone for a couple of days then read it again with fresh eyes.
- Know when to stop tweaking your writing. Stop now!
Specific tips about proofreading spelling, punctuation and context
- UK or US English? ise or ize, e.g. realise or realize?
- Use a dictionary to remove any doubt. Apps like Grammarly might not recognise the wrong word if spelt correctly, e.g. selling/spelling.
- Are names are consistently spelt correctly? Check spelling of place names, if appropriate.
- UK or US punctuation?
- Double or single quote marks
- Oxford (serial) comma, i.e. comma before ‘and’ in a list.
- Ellipsis = 3 dots (…) Do insert a space after. Or even insert a space either side ( … ). No need for a full stop if it’s at the end of a sentence. Whatever style you choose, do it consistently rather than mix up the number of dots.
- One exclamation mark (!) is fine for dramatic purposes. Use sparingly. Two at the end of a sentence is too much.
Context with the bigger picture:
- Is the style consistent: formal or informal? Business-like or chatty? Be yourself, show personality, be rich in content, and readable in blog posts. Stay in style.
- Have you ensured clarity, correctness and convention? Only use jargon if your audience understands it, or you have explained what it means.
- Is the text sound in the case of accessibility, inclusivity and legality?
Editors and proofreaders don’t just find typos. We do much more than that.
I haven’t even covered the use of grammar here; that is a topic for another day.
We are not ‘grammar police’ or ‘grammar pedants’. Your writing is your voice; editors and proofreaders polish your voice. We make suggestions to improve your writing, but, in the end, it’s your choice.
We are an understanding and sympathetic bunch; we collaborate, not compete. If I can’t help, I’ll know someone who can. You need to feel confident that your writing is ready for publication.
Also, although I describe myself as an editor in my marketing, my only editing role is voluntary (for my local, 32-page parish magazine). I have done basic copyediting training, but it’s not my main interest. I much prefer to proofread texts; I have much more training and experience in that area.
I know copyeditors who won’t consider proofreading because they prefer to copyedit and clarify the text, especially in traditional publishing.
Sprinkling publishing confidence
A fellow networker said he saw me in the role of fairy godmother. I thought it suited me. So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with your writing and need a sprinkling of publishing confidence, come to me for my proofreading services.
Subscribe to my blog to receive new posts directly to your email.
Contact me to find out my availability for proofreading non-fiction and children’s books.
Further sources of the information found in this post: CIEP Fact sheets
If interested, the networking group of freelancers where I shared these tips is called Drive the Partnership Network. We meet on Zoom every Thursday morning from 10 to 11am. The international group meets on the last Tuesday of the month, from 4pm to 5pm, for those who prefer the later time. Ask to find out more.