February 2019

Following on from my January blog, introducing myself and some of my services, I thought I would expand on one of them: proofreading. There are some frequently asked questions whenever I talk about proofreading. I’ve addressed a few of them below.

So, what is proofreading? 

It is a certainty this question will be asked. Not many, outside publishing, have come across the term, so I have prepared a few words to help.

Essentially, it is a check. A check, not only of spelling, punctuation and grammar, but of consistency and accuracy of the text and its formatting. Traditionally, the proofreader would check the final drafts (proofs) of manuscripts for any typesetting errors, etc. This would be the last chance to spot any errors before publication.

As such, a proofreader is the final pair of eyes before it hits the public domain.

Do I need a proofreader?

In my biased view, yes! It’s not just books – anything written can be proofread. Poor spelling, punctuation and grammar can affect your professional image. The littlest of mistakes can make the headlines(*), or even cost you the chance of a job!

Surely a spellchecker does it all?

Modern online spellcheckers are great but only really check spelling. If the wrong word is in there, but spelt correctly, it won’t get picked up. Form instead of from is a good example; something more extreme can be found here.

MS Word is getting sophisticated, in that it can spot the form/from issue in the context of the sentence. But, what if a word is missing and the sentence still makes sense?

Here’s one example, admittedly, quite an old one, but it demonstrates the impact of missing a word and completely changing the meaning of the sentence! This would not be picked up by a spellchecker: only a human eye could spot that (I presume the 17th century proofreader in this case was executed…).

Another consideration is that modern word-processing software will auto-correct. People often spell definitely as definately (or even defiantly!) but the software changes it and so one does not realise the mistake made. That’s great, isn’t it?

Well, firstly, you never learn you’re making the mistake and it creeps into your handwriting as well; secondly, what if it auto-corrects to something else? (When typing this, it changed a mistyping of throw to through – and this was only spotted when it was proofread by a human being!)

One last point on spellcheckers. They tend to default to US English and so wouldn’t pick up spellings such as realize, obligated and fetus. These spellings are creeping in to UK English as a result.

Why should I punctuate? People will surely know what I mean!

The shame is people won’t. It’s (**) why punctuation was developed. Go back far enough in time and there is no punctuation, but as more people learnt to read and more copies of text were available, writers and printers would add notations to aid the reading. These notations would highlight pauses and help give clarity over meaning.

Here’s a good example (and there are many if you search online):

Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was chopped off

Do we mean he was walking and talking after his decapitation? That seems a nonsense, but it is one way of reading the sentence and, in less enlightened times, could be believed as such. Let’s throw in some punctuation:

Charles the First walked and talked. Half an hour after, his head was chopped off.

Now it is clear what we mean: he walked and talked and then, later, his head was chopped off.

Punctuation’s power is clarity of meaning: something very important if you’re trying to sell something!

Even so, surely it is just publishers that use proofreaders?

Not so, these days.

You may be a charity producing your Trustees’ Annual Report or a brochure to help generate donations; a business wishing to promote itself with leaflets; a financial adviser creating reports on a client’s finances; a student writing an essay, dissertation or thesis; a sport club producing a fixture book; or even a restaurant producing a menu.

And it isn’t just hard copy: websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media all promote you and your organisation, so it’s important to ensure that what you practise in hard copy written material transfers to the soft copy online.

And, of course, you may have read it through a few times yourself, but a proofreader provides a fresh, concentrated and independent pair of eyes.

I’m convinced! How can you help me?

A very good and sage question! My services range from a simple check of spelling and punctuation up to suggested edits/rewordings. I can also help you develop a ‘tone of voice’ and house style.

I will help with CVs, menus, essays, reports, leaflets, theses, even Christmas cards! Basically, if you plan to put something in writing in public (be it on paper or online) then I can review it.

Want to know more? Then contact me here.

This blog is based on a presentation made to Southend Peers, the borough’s premier networking group.

(*) There’s a prize (not really) for anyone that spots the errors in the article, criticising the original error…

(**) My spellchecker insisted this should be ‘Its’ until I added this footnote!

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordperfectVA.

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