An Introduction to Proofreading | What It Is and Why It Matters
Whether you’re a professional writer, a student, or even someone who’s just writing an email for work, proofreading is the last and a crucial step for getting any written document in place. It’s an important final check for anybody who engages with the writing process, in order to produce an error-free and well-written piece.
So what exactly is proofreading, and why does it matter? That’s what we’re here to uncover.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the final process of reviewing a written document’s mechanical consistency and correctness, focusing on refining grammar, punctuation, consistency, and spelling.
Perhaps you’re wondering: if the act of writing is subjective, then how does a word like “mechanical” come into the mix? Here’s how.
The points of focus we’ve mentioned here are those pertaining to the formal nature of language. There are certain black and white rules about the right order of words in a sentence, accurate placement of punctuation, standardized spellings, and so on. It’s this aspect of writing that proofreading seeks to correct. Proofreading does not involve changing or rearranging the content of the piece itself.
Is proofreading the same as editing?
Straight off the bat, let’s establish that editing and proofreading are not the same. Think of editing as this enormous umbrella and proofreading as one of the many people standing under it. Proofreading, copyediting, and substantive editing are three distinct types of editing processes that focus on improving different aspects of the writing.
Proofreading is the final stage of the overall editing process, done after changes are made to improve the content/writing of the text.
Substantive editing focuses on the big picture, working to improve on broader aspects like overall structure and organization, making sure that the author’s voice is consistent throughout, and ensuring that the piece as a whole is impactful throughout.
Copyediting looks at the document a little more closely, with a focus on refining sentence structure, word usage and other stylistic concerns.
In other words, substantive editing and copyediting are about improving the content and subjective quality of your writing, while proofreading is focused on ensuring that the text is technically correct.
|Proofreading||Copyediting or substantive editing|
|Addresses technical and mechanical aspects of language, including:
||Addresses more subjective concerns of writing, such as:
|It is the final stage of refining a document.||Edits are made to the initial drafts of the document.|
|A proofreader makes minor changes to the document without making changes to the content itself.||An editor focuses on improving the quality and impact of the writing and is often extensive in their critique.|
|Its scope is consistent no matter what the document is.||The level of editing varies depending on the context and the client’s needs.|
|As the mechanical part of the review process, proofreading ensures that language norms are adhered to.||Editing lays emphasis on more subjective elements of writing, such as style and narrative.|
Why does proofreading matter?
Imagine you’re at a serene continental restaurant and you’re looking at the menu to decide what you want to eat. There’s this pasta dish your friend has spoken of highly, and you’ve driven all the way just to have it. And then you see it, the glaring typo, and all your friend’s praise suddenly fades from your head. “Roasted Bell Peppre Arrabiata,” it says, on the menu. Such a silly typo from a high rated restaurant! “Is this even going to be good?” you wonder. The typo totally distracts you from everything else on the menu. Even after you’ve placed your order, all you’re thinking about is the minute error!
What we’re trying to say here is that errors do make a difference in how you perceive the written text. Even if your brain automatically rectifies it for your understanding, you’re left wondering about its overall quality. Moreover, you become distracted as a reader, only focusing on the mistakes, rather than the essence of the text itself.
Proofreading also ensures a level of professionalism in your work. It indicates that you have taken time and effort to perfect your document, and the subliminal experience of reading it will demonstrate that.
The good news is, though, that these errors are easily avoidable, with just a bit of effort.
What exactly does a proofreader do?
By the time the document reaches the proofreader’s desk, it should have already been edited. Paragraph-level and sentence-level changes would have already been made, leaving the proofreader to do a final “proof” to ensure that it is grammatically correct and visually accurate.
So a proofreader looks at language errors such as incorrect subject-verb agreement, inconsistency in tenses, and lack of parallelisms in sentences. They also ensure adherence to punctuation guidelines (using hyphens and dashes appropriately, Oxford comma regulations, and so on), and proper spellings according to language requirement. If you mix up British English and American English spellings of a word —“favourite” and “favorite”, for instance—, it’s a proofreader’s job to ensure consistency in whichever style you choose to write in.
In cases of academic documents, they also ensure that proper style guidelines are being followed. It’s a proofreader, rather than an editor, who will ensure that reference list, in-text citations, footnotes, annotations, etc., and the overall format of that particular style are adhered to.
They maintain specific style sheets to have a point of reference while reviewing large documents. In addition to academic papers (which will necessarily adhere to a particular citation style), style sheets may also be used in refining business documents, legal papers and other documents that are required to maintain specific formatting guidelines.
Why (and when) do you need a proofreader?
Anyone can do a grammar check (not as swiftly as a professional, admittedly), but proofreaders are also trained to make it more accessible: easier to look at, read, and comprehend. They always have one foot in the reader’s shoe and will critique your document accordingly. While the editor does this from a content perspective, the proofreader uses grammar, punctuation, and rules of standardization in language to ensure that the reader does not misinterpret the purpose of a particular sentence because of a typo or a misplaced comma.
You would ideally need to get in touch with a proofreader when you’re happy with your final draft after all the editing is done. But do bear in mind that editing and proofreading are likely to happen in conjunction, often done by the same person one after the other. There are obvious advantages to having your proofreader and editor be the same person: it saves time, energy, and expenses on both sides. Moreover, this person will be familiar with your writing style and your goals as a writer and will guide you accordingly (a rapport you will instantly lose out on if you consult different people for each stage).
So if you want your document to be edited and proofread, how does that happen? This is what we address next.
Working with a proofreader
We’ve identified three types of people you can work with to get the proofreading process done:
- Friends, colleagues or peers who are good at grammar and have a keen eye for details
- Freelance proofreaders, who you can find on sites like Fiverr or Upwork
- Professional proofreaders you can find in firms like PaperTrue and Scribendi
In addition to these options, you can proofread the text yourself. But we suggest you enlist someone else’s help, as they’re likely to spot errors you may have previously missed.
How you choose a proofreader is dependent on the type of document and your current resources. There are proofreaders who specialize in specific kinds of documents, such as academic papers, legal documents, and so on. You’ll also need to consider your budget and the amount of time you can spare to get the document reviewed.
We’ve attached some resources below, which will help you come to the right decision.
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