As the author of a document no matter how many times you reread it you feel there is something not quite right but you cannot quite put your finger on what is wrong. The problem is you have been so involved with it for so long, it is impossible to look at it objectively and you continue to read what you expect to see. It could be a business document, report, brochure, academic paper for a journal, or a book. No matter what the item is the same problems will occur – inaccurate spelling, punctuation, and grammar, ‘woolly’ thinking and writing, and inconsistencies of style and layout. Following on from my previous blog on the benefits of proofreading you have decided to get someone to proofread your work – possibly me. So, how do you prepare for that? Here are a few simple steps.
Use the spellchecker: I know I have commented before that it is unreliable, but it is there, it is free, and it should pick up a few horrors you would prefer someone else did not know about. But do not rely on it – it is not exhaustive and some of the suggested changes might be suspect or bizarre. (Some while ago one flagged up ‘Suzi’ for me and suggested it should be ‘saucy’ and ‘Alistair’ should be ‘alligator’! They have improved a little since then but even so do not trust them unquestioningly.)
Make sure the spelling and punctuation pattern is consistent, that is UK or US English spelling and punctuation styles. US English usually uses -ize spellings (e.g. recognize) whereas UK English accepts -ise or -ize, but not both styles in the same document. Note: certain words can only use an -ise spelling (e.g. advertise, not advertize), and spellings in quoted material should not be changed to match the style of your writing. It is acceptable to leave variant spellings in quotations exactly as they are.
Check that all the pages are there, are numbered and in the correct order, and correspond to the table of contents if there is one. Ensure chapter and side headings in the table of contents match word for word what is in the text and the page numbers are recorded correctly. The same goes for lists of figures, tables, and illustrations and the corresponding captions to these in the text.
Make sure they are properly acknowledged in the text and the source work is cited in the references or footnotes, where used. Longer quotations, say of over 40 words, are often displayed (line space before and after them, and indented on the left to set them off) depending on house or publisher style.
References or bibliography
Check that all the entries are complete, including accessed dates for web pages. Sometimes in the heat of writing an author will merely register the cited author and year of publication in the references, meaning to go back later to research the publication details and insert them, only they forget. Ensure the references are in alphabetical order, then date order if there are several for the same author.
The above steps will make the proofreading job much easier and your proofreader and indexer will thank you for it. If there is less work to do the invoice will be lower. Happy writing!
Stephen York is a freelance proofreader with over 25 years' experience in book and journal publishing offering proofreading services to publishers, businesses, organizations, educational institutions, academics, students, and authors. He regularly proofreads in digital format a wide variety of media in an extensive range of specialist subject areas, including business, finance, economics, education, marketing, and real estate.