There are some myths about proofreading that are untrue and need exposing and refuting.
Myth: Proofreading is the same as editing, right?
Truth: No, they are two distinct roles. Editors review a piece of writing when it is at the draft stage, with the intention of improving the flow and readability. An editor may even rewrite and reorder entire sentences and paragraphs in a document to improve flow, at the same time as correcting obvious grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors.
Proofreaders carefully review a piece of writing in its final draft word-by-word after it has already been edited, although some people go straight to proofreading after first draft so that the proofreader combines both roles – often referred to as proofreading plus or proof-editing. Proofreaders check for accurate spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and incorrect use of language.
Myth: I do not need a proofreader as I always use a spellchecker. That is enough surely?
Truth: A spellchecker is useful for finding misspelt words and sometimes grammatical errors. However, it will not identify words that are spelt correctly but have been incorrectly transposed such as “form” instead of “from”. Nor will it spot correctly spelt words but used in the wrong context, for example “bow” and “bough”, “their” and “there”, and “its” and “it’s”. It is a useful tool but should not be the sole means of ensuring accuracy.
Myth: Proofreaders enjoy finding errors and will tear your work to shreds.
Truth: When you think of a proofreader do you picture a sad person hunched over a pile of paper proofs, red pen in hand, scouring each line to find any excuse to make corrections? Firstly, most proofreading is done on a computer screen nowadays with the proofreader using the Microsoft Word’s Track Changes tool to make additions, deletions, make comments and suggestions, and raise queries for the author. Alternatively, proofs may be in PDF format and Adobe Acrobat’s mark-up tools may be used.
Secondly, most competent proofreaders will weigh up the value of making corrections, usually only doing so only when necessary for accuracy, improvement, or consistency. It is not their mission to obliterate the author’s voice and ideas for the sake of making corrections. The proofreader is on the writer’s side, helping to make the final draft the best it can be in the time and budget available – free of errors, clear, and consistent.
Myth: Proofreading is not important, as long as the document is good enough and understandable.
Truth: Perhaps not everything needs proofreading. A personal email or letter to a friend or family member just would not matter too much if it had spelling and grammar mistakes. However, if you want to create a good impression and encourage someone to employ you or buy the goods and services that you are offering for sale, your covering letter or brochure would spoil your chances of success if it contained mistakes.
Myth: Professional proofreading will take too long and be expensive.
Truth: Professional proofreading need not necessarily take a long time if you book your proofreader in advance, agree terms, and scope of role. The proofreader should be able to “hit the ground running” and can sometimes turn around an urgent document in a very short space of time. But that will depend on the length of the document (i.e. “word count”) and the quality of your writing. Always reread your own work before sending it for proofreading to save the proofreader spending time correcting what you could have easily corrected yourself, allowing the proofreader to concentrate on the more complicated matters.
The author’s perception of the cost of proofreading will depend on how much they value their own work. If a document is important, such as a report, tender, or bid for a contract, or an application letter for a prestigious job, money well spent on professional proofreading could be the difference between being successfully awarded the contract or the new job, or being rejected as an “also ran”.
To sum up
Proofreading is an investment in quality assurance and peace of mind. Can you afford not to invest?
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.