There is no such thing as ‘only a quick proofread’

Over many years of proofreading I have heard the statement ‘it only needs a quick proofread’ from people enquiring about the cost of proofreading services, implying they expect that the proofread will take little time at all and the only things I will be likely to find will be a light sprinkling of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. They expect the spelling errors to be minimal as they have already put their document or publication through the spellchecker. Statements like this immediately put me on my guard as I know from experience that ‘just a quick proofread’ is rarely what is required.

First of all is the time taken to proofread: people tend to underestimate the length of time a proofread will take. They expect you to skim through it at the same speed that you would use for a work of popular fiction that you might purchase at the airport to read on holiday and you will still be able to spot all the errors. In reality, the proofread is a good deal slower as you have to read every word and assess it in its context, ever alert for repetition, omission, and text inconsistencies.

At the same time, you have to be alert for errors in spelling that your spellchecker might have missed, such as accepting ‘there’ when ‘their’ would have been the correct spelling in the textual context. Also, you have to ensure that punctuation is correct; for instance, the sentence ends in a full stop and not a comma. Then there are the grammatical errors such as subject and verb agreement. You might ask ‘What on earth is that?’ Well, you would say ‘She prepares the meal’, not ‘She prepare the meal’. Also, the spellchecker would not have spotted that you mixed the tenses in ‘We are going into the city tomorrow and purchased a new table’ (future and past tense together).

Then there is the matter of availability to carry out the proofread. Some people think the proofreader is sitting at their desk with nothing to do, just waiting for that email or phone call to enquire about the cost of and availability for proofreading, expecting you to charge next to nothing (the subject of a forthcoming blog from me I am sure) and will be able to turn around a proofread of 60,000 words within 24 to 48 hours. I kid you not, I have had such enquiries. First of all, I do not work 10- to 12-hour days as that is not the route to providing good-quality work. Second, I may already have jobs booked in for other clients who have taken the trouble to reserve me in advance knowing that quality freelancers are busy freelancers (well some of the time).

The moral of this story? If you want a good proofread done that will be a credit to the hard work you have put into writing the piece, make sure you allow plenty of time and sufficient budget for the freelance to do their job properly. They take pride in their work and prefer not to do ‘just a quick proofread’.