Oh, to Proofread

by Davina on May 29, 2014

Creative proofreading

The art of proofreading

Recently, I worked with a new client who had written her first ebook. It impresses me when someone makes the effort to hire a professional proofreader. I’m also grateful when my services are requested.

In this particular case we agreed that I would not do a full edit, but rather support her by highlighting suggested edits. The number of hours she approved were enough to recommend and demonstrate revisions that included fact checking, formatting and syntax.

She received her Microsoft Word manuscript with tracked changes and margin notes and soon after, sent me the following note:

“I finally had enough quiet time…to go through the whole book and see your changes and recommendations. I loved it and I had no idea how much work was involved in editing.”

Beyond common grammar rules and proofreading strategies there is an art to proofreading. For me, there is joy in serving a client and satisfaction from being involved with a proofreading project. There is skill required, obviously. Good instincts help, as does having close to twenty years of experience in the industry, as I do.

I’ve seen errors that are possible during the production process. Being proactive and anticipating errors, as opposed to happening upon them appeals. Being creative with the process keeps proofreading fresh. There is a delightful sense of adventure that inspires me to anticipate unique patterns and types of errors.

Beyond common proofreading tips

Proofreading tips consistently suggest that you:

  1. Focus on every word, pointing to each one;
  2. Read out loud, slowly;
  3. Read on paper rather than on the computer screen; and
  4. Read backwards.

This is good advice, though there is more to the art of proofreading. I refer to proofreading as an art because you must approach every project differently; creatively. Although these tips form a solid foundation, I invite you to be creative with how you delve into each proofreading project. If you are blindly following these tips there will be a tendency toward complacency and mistakes.

Creative proofreading

Creative proofreading complements grammar and spelling. Consider what you see from different angles, just as you might admire artwork. Use everything you see as clues to shape your approach. Record this information.

Notice the use of italics, quote marks, formatting, punctuation and capitalization, spacing above and below headings, hierarchical and alphabetical order, symbols, abbreviations, indentation of paragraphs, style of numbering, dates and use of dashes. Ensure that both opening and closing quotes or parentheses have been used.

I use Notepad to record words typical to the author’s style, which may be overused or require consistency, in addition to notes about all of the above and commonly misspelled words. Don’t risk forgetting something. These notes guide search/replace passes for consistency. Making notes populates details in your memory; instincts will be heightened during proofreading.

Pause every so often. Consider, “What about…? What is missing here?” Remember: what is technically correct is not necessarily what your client wants! Ask, confirm, be consistent.

Please, do share what proofreading strategies work for you!

Photo Credit: Tim

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{ 8 comments }

Mike May 30, 2014 at 5:44 am

I knew that writing is hard work. So, it would appear, is proofreading, dun rite. ;)

I often read reader reviews of a book before buying. Problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. can make it a “no sale” for me.

I don’t ask for the same standard on blogs I read as they are much, much shorter than books, but, even there, errors can irk — well when it should be will, to instead of too.

Karen thinks I’m too picky. I guess I internalized the rules more than most. Mrs. Schrock did tell me, in freshman English, that I should be an English major.
Mike´s last blog post ..Ben Long Ear

Hilary May 30, 2014 at 10:12 am

Hi Davina .. I certainly get irritated by the basic errors – but so often it’s typing fingers and not intent – the brain lets it happen (nearly got an apostrophe in the lets!) …

I actually have no grammar background, nor learning really – but something somewhere went in – though it took 40+ years to materialise via blogging … and now all I do is learn .. not so sure about the grammar though!

I’m glad I can craft sentences and blog … I’ve been lucky in that way .. now with the ebooks on their way (in due time) I’ll be interested to see what comes out in the wash!

Glad to see you back .. and I was going to contact you shortly .. small world .. cheers Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..Art, Economics, Bloomsbury Group, Degas, Newton …

Patricia May 30, 2014 at 10:33 am

So nice to find your post Davina and all your good words are so true. I have been reading many more PDF files of books and unproofed copies and ebooks (self-edited) these days and the word, punctuation errors, and verb tense just seem to jump out at me; the book I am presently reading has tons of spacing errors – the paragraphs and chapters seem to be randomly placed and then suddenly there will be a page number which makes no sense. The unproofed book which would take me about 8 hours to read has so far taken 12 hours. When I have 4 or 5 books to review in a week, this is extremely time consuming and the trick I use is to figure out the rhythm of the author’s words and only read about 1/2 the words. I am not being paid anything – just the copy of the book as a gift – for my services.

Now on editing myself, I seem to be getting worse since getting these unproofed books in such copious numbers. For the life of me, I can not seem to get a R on the word YOUR these days unless is it You’re, which is a word authors seem to have forgotten to use these days. My printer has failed me recently and now with newspapers, magazines and book retailers not paying for reviews, I am not replacing it, and that was my best self-editing tool. I try to adjust by making the font huge and that does help.
I also must read about 100 review books a year to make $1,000 so this year I am working on a 200 book review year.
I can analyze things very quickly and integrate concepts and ideas with amazing speed and I love to read. I have to have a review written in 30 minutes or less and then on one day a week I put in all the links for all the reviews I have written. I definitely am making more errors than I would like in my posts.

Here’s a funny for you – when a computer has assembled and copied the unproofed book it translates some works ( like for phone text) into something it likes better. There are some standard errors, which we as reviewers send back to the publishers or authors. My favorite error word is ARMS which the computer regularly changes to AN_S . U get the drift?
Great post and I will try to do better Davina – I truuuuuly will :)
Patricia´s last blog post ..THE QUICK: A Novel ~Lauren Owen

Davina June 2, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi Mike.

Negative reviews in that sense can definitely deter sales. I have been contacted by authors who had previously published their ebook, without having it professionally proofread. They had received numerous complaints about the mistakes. So, I can relate to your comment. If there are too many mistakes it’s like trying to drive a car over rows of speed bumps.

You just want to read the content without having to sift through errors. I totally understand. Accuracy on blogs is less important, I agree, though I try to be as careful as I can with this one! The errors you noted are rather sloppy.

The only way I will turn the other cheek to these errors is if they are on a blog written by someone I have been following for some time.

Davina June 2, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Hello there, Hilary.

That’s true what you say…it’s not always intent. Very good point. I suppose that if it’s a business blog, that calls for the blogger to at least proof their own work. If those errors are not their intent, they will surely be inclined to fix them.

Your blog is conversational and I have to say that I pay no heed to your grammar :) Your personality and the types of topics are what keep folk coming back to read.

I appreciate that people are still reading this blog…it’s been almost a year since I’ve posted. Feels good to have it looking more current. Cheers to you as well.

Davina June 2, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Hello Patricia.

Wow, I had never considered the implications you have commented on. How frustrating! So in this regard, it would be to the author’s own best interest for you to be able to read with less trouble, thus getting through quicker and being able to write your review. Makes it a challenge to review this type of book.

I can relate to leaving the “r” off of “your”. And I often catch myself typing “you’re” instead of “your”. Geez, the number of books you read astounds me! Your mental capacity must be as sharp as a tack.

Lol!!! That is too funny :-) I get the drift.

janice June 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Oh, Davina, I’m SO happy to see you back and your comments open again! When I came back online a few months ago, I popped over to find you and they were all closed. I’m not subscribed to any blogs these days, so synchronicity, pure and simple, brought me over today; I clicked on an old link that took me to a lovely post you wrote to honour Barbara Swafford a few years ago. I swear I was going to email you just for a sentimental chat – spooky! I hope you’ll forgive my rubbish punctuation and giddy exclamation marks, but it’s truly a joy to see Mike, Pat’s wee ladybird, Hilary (and her hat) and your photo in the same comments boxes again!

I love that you’ve been following – and earning from – your passion for editing and proofreading since we last ‘met’, but I hope you’ll still be writing your other pieces and wonderful hiking journals here, too, now that you’re back.
janice´s last blog post ..I Find Your Love

Davina June 16, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Awh, hi Janice. Thank you!

I’m so pleased to see you here; that means a lot. Comments on this blog remain open for each post for 60 days. After that point the comments are automatically closed; this cuts down on a great deal of spam. If you ever need to reach me don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or connect through the contact page.

You’re such a sweetheart :) I remember Barbara Swafford very well. And yes, I agree that it is nice to see Hilary, Patricia and Mike here as well. I don’t promise to be posting as regularly as I used to as business tends to keep me pretty occupied, but I’m still here online even if the blog is somewhat quiet.

This is just such a nice surprise. So great to hear that you are back online!! I will visit, of course.

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