What proofreaders do not routinely do

In an earlier blog I discussed what proofreaders would normally do as part of their duties. There I touched on aspects of writing and publication that proofreaders would not normally be involved in: copy-editing, copyright and permissions, indexing, literary appraisal, page design and layout, and rewriting. Many professional proofreaders have the skills to perform some of these services, but these will require separate negotiation and briefing. But there are also areas that some writers sometimes mistakenly assume are part of the proofreading process that in fact are not.

Contributors

Proofreaders will check that contributing authors’ names and affiliations are consistently presented in the preliminary matter, text, chapter title pages, and appendices. However, it is the author’s responsibility to ensure they are correctly spelt.

Flow and meaning of text

Although proofreaders will read every word of the text and highlight to the author, project manager, or publisher any sentences that do not make sense, it is not their responsibility to rewrite the text in these circumstances. They may, if budget, time constraints, and a sufficiently good relationship with instructing parties permit, offer suggestions for rewording. This has been made much easier by the latest trend towards proofreading on screen – for instance digital mark-up of PDFs, or using the Track Changes tool in Microsoft Word if typesetting has not taken place yet. It is far easier and faster to raise queries on the proofs than type a separate list as in less recent years.

Also, they will not wilfully amend text that they think could be better worded, or adjust the text to improve flow. That would be carried out by the copy-editor in consultation with the author.

Equations, diagrams, and tables

Proofreaders will check that these are accurately set in accordance with the edited copy plus any accompanying instructions, but authors should ensure that the correct calculations, data, and sources have been included in the first place, and that columns of figures total correctly. Proofreaders are usually happy to query anything that “does not look right”, but cannot be relied upon to spot any factual errors.

Checking references

Proofreaders will check that references cited in the text are also cited in the references / bibliography section at the end of the book or chapter and that their spelling and dates correspond. The two main systems are:

1) author–date system (Harvard references), e.g. Smith and Jones, 1994 – often used in academic books
2) number-only system (Vancouver references), e.g. Brookes[17] – often used in journals.

However, proofreaders will not check that they are accurately cited, for instance that all the co-authors are cited, the book title, the publishers, and the place of publication are correctly given and spelt. That is the author’s responsibility.

Index

As mentioned in the introduction above, although index compilation is not carried out by proofreaders unless separately negotiated, proofreaders will often be asked to proofread the index to check that all main entries and sub-entries are in the correct alphabetical order, page numbers are correctly elided using minimum numerals and unspaced en dashes (e.g. 323–49, not 323–349 or 323-349), and cross-references are correctly given.

Finally

Armed with the above information authors are better able to present their typescripts to the editorial process, confident that the end product will be the best it can be.