Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is traditionally the final step of the editing process, in which the proofreader detects and marks errors in a proof.

A brief introduction: In the days before digital technology, a proofreader would simply mark on the page, typically with proofreaders' marks (a system of professional symbols), where a correction was needed, and another editor would make the changes.

Now that we create and edit our documents on screens and transfer documents online — sometimes never printing a single page until producing the final product — sometimes making a change directly to the text is just as easy as marking it, thus saving a step.

Since this obviously makes job consolidation practical, much proofreading now involves detecting and either marking or correcting errors in a proof. An evolving definition like this could result in a slippery slope of the job's duties, so I maintain as simple a delineation as possible between proofreading and copyediting:

Proofreading involves identifying and sometimes making corrections to problem areas in a proof. This can involve catching any number of types of issues (including capitalization, grammar, or spelling), but the general rule is that a proofreader won't spend time revising the text or proposing changes. Proofreading is simple and gets straight to the point, saying "here is a problem," not "here's how to fix it." The latter is copyediting.

What's the difference between copyediting and proofreading?

A proofreader does not provide comments, feedback, critique, or anything like that. Again, that falls under the jurisdiction of a copyeditor. Proofreading is performed after the writing is finished and checks for all sorts of concerns, such as misnumbered pages, alignment and spacing errors, spelling mistakes, obstructive grammar or syntax errors, ambiguous writing, improper capitalization, problems with punctuation, ad infinitum. Because proofreading requires a narrow focus in search of obvious problems, a proofreader will often overlook style choices, which may extend to issues of grammar, syntax, and rhetoric, among other more subjective elements of writing. Writers interested in receiving attention and corrections to their grammar and phrasing should pursue copyediting.

Do you think you might need proofreading or copyediting? Take my quick, interactive quiz to find out!

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