You might be forgiven for thinking that proofreading is proofreading – there are no variances in style or intensity. The proofreader would read through for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other errors and inconsistencies and that is it. Well not quite – it depends on the authorship, readership, and context, and where the writing will appear.
Consider first the authorship. For instance, some books may have multiple chapters contributed by different authors from different countries. Chapters may need to have been harmonized at the editing stage to make all spellings UK or US English, or -ise or -ize spellings, or the use of single or double quotation marks. Alternatively, sometimes the style may be allowed to vary between chapters as long as the style for each individual chapter is consistent within itself. This is an area the proofreader may need to check for consistency.
Next to consider is the readership. Is the document, book, or article in a consistent tone or language style and suitable for its intended readership? What is required will be different for primary school textbooks, further education and university textbooks, academic studies, the general public, or a very specific section of the public, such as the subscribers to an academic or vocational journal. The language for a textbook should be consistent and suitable for its intended reader – a university student or lecturer would be familiar with a different vocabulary to that of a primary or secondary school student. A work of fiction might have a more relaxed style using word contractions, especially if it contains a lot of dialogue in contemporary or slang language.
Finally, and overlapping readership is context. Some styles regarded as acceptable for a travel guide or a work of fiction would not be acceptable for an academic or vocational book or journal. For instance, some journals, including ones in finance and real estate that I proofread, require that I should make adjustments to take into account the following that may not have been considered or might have been missed at the editing stage:
• contractions, such as isn’t, wouldn’t, and can’t, should not be used and the words must be spelled out in full
• the voice should be passive and avoid using personal pronouns (I, we, they, etc.) and impersonal pronouns (such as ‘one’). For example, using the passive voice in ‘Shoplifters will be prosecuted’ rather than the active voice in ‘We will prosecute shoplifters’.
So it is a matter of choosing the right level of proofreading for each article, document, or book.
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.