(Updated February 2021)
When do you hire a professional Proofreader? In Five Basic Tips to Proofread Your Content, I focused on proofing our own content, or self-proofing. We proofread to make sure our work is free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. So why hire a professional proofreader?
Consider this: What happens if you aren’t confident in your proofing skills? Or this: Perhaps the proofing tools might miss something; how would I know?
To self-proof or hire a professional proofreader, that is the question!
And the related questions:
- What precisely is proofreading?
- When should I partner with a professional proofreader?
What is Proofreading?
The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors tells us that “Proofreading literally means ‘the reading and checking of proofs’ against the original.” Why? The purpose of this stage is “…to eliminate grammar problems, typos, spelling errors, and usage mistakes.” (Technical Communication Today, p. 8).
My colleague, Yocheved Frischman, provides additional detail. “Proofreading is the stage of editing an article, book, website or other piece of written text, to ensure that it is as error-free as possible and basically all the proverbial “I”s are dotted and “T”s crossed.”
What’s involved in Proofreading?
The proofreader focuses on grammar, spelling, and usage. This step comes after all the content and organizational edits are complete; by this point, the style format is set (Technical Communication Today, p. 499). In addition to spelling and grammar, a proofreader will also look at format. From Yocheved’s experience, “[a] proofreader is … the last eye on the work before it is published, and therefore may catch factual errors and inconsistencies.”
Being the “last eye” on the written word, the proofreader makes sure the entire piece has consistent format and style. Proofreaders have lots of experience with various style guides.
NAIWE defines two levels of proofreading:
- Basic: check for typos, repetitive words, and incorrect styles and checking “word-for-word against a marked-up draft and identify errors…”
- Editorial Proofreading: “…errors in word usage (for instance, the use of to instead of too), hyphenation, and subject-verb agreement. If asked, editorial proofreaders can look for grammar problems (using which instead of that). They can also recommend changes in word choice or inappropriate punctuation. Editorial proofreading is usually done on material that has already been edited or reformatted.”
goes beyond the spell/grammar check tools. The manual proofreader catches errors that a tool may have missed:
- Correct use of punctuation, such as use of semi-colons v. colons
- Spelling and typos
- Word usage: there are words that sound the same, yet have different meanings. Example: accept (receive or agree to) v. except (leave out); correct idiom usage (Technical Communication Today p. 508)
- Extra small words, such as “the,” “a,” “or”
- Missing words—perhaps missing a definite article or noun
- Numerical data, to make sure the data matches the source documentation
- Graphics: placement (Does the picture match the text?); correct captions
- Text in diagrams and flowcharts: make sure the text matches the source files, which might be in PowerPoint, Excel, or other formats
- Check text and numbers in headers and footers, tables of content, indexes, cross-references; update the publication/copyright year
Why hire a Proofreader?
“A writer has seen their work over and over and has become desensitized to double words, to misspellings, and other errors. In addition, most writers and editors focus on a bigger picture and the proofreader focuses on the picayune details,” Yocheved offers. As writers, we make sure the article flows well and that our language choices enhance our work. We’re engrossed in the writing process. We may not think about quotation mark usage; when to use a semi-colon, or the number of spaces after a punctuation mark.
Additionally, “…when writers proofread their own work, their eyes skim over errors because their mind gets in the way and makes the eyes miss what is actually there. … writers know what they intend to convey, their eyes read one thing, but their brains translate it into what it should be. Hence, even experienced columnists and journalists are prone to such errors.” (See Why Writers Need Proofreaders.)
Professional proofreaders, educated in specific areas, search for these details.
And the details not only enhance our work; they make the publishing run smoothly. Yocheved reminds us that “these things [punctuation, grammar, spelling errors] can cause a lot of work when the material is sent to a typesetter.”
We want our content to look polished, as free of errors as possible. When thinking through whether or not to hire a professional proofreader, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really understand the style guide criteria?
- Is attention to detail my strong suit?
- Am I objective enough to look at this article and see its flaws?
- Do the tools I use catch everything, even idioms?
The best way to help ourselves is to hire a professional proofreader.
Partner with a Proofreader
Think of a proofreader as your partner. You write compelling content. You want that content to look polished, and as free of errors as possible. The proofreader provides that service. Additionally, the proofreader provides the objective review for your article.
Yocheved suggests that “[s]ome writers hire a proofreader when they’ve finished the piece and they are ready to send it to a publisher. This should be after sending it to an editor, who will take a more global look at the work.”
If you’re the editor, generally you would bring in a proofreader as the last review before publication.
The Last Eyes
“You always get a proofreader for the very final copy of the document that goes to the printer. Always.” Rebecca Klempner (Oh My Word! podcast #44.5, January 14, 2021).
Yocheved supports Rebecca’s assessment:
- One of the big principles in content creation is to have lots of eyes on the work. “The more eyes that there are on a work, the better chance there won’t be a mistake.”
- And the corollary: “The more eyes you have, the better quality you’re going to produce.”
Yocheved offered this anecdote to emphasize the need for professional proofreaders. Before publishing a multi-volume legal work, the author wanted as many eyes on the content as possible; he wanted more than one proofreader, more than one editor. One of the copyeditors discovered a factual error that the author had inadvertently overlooked. Because of the diligent “last eyes,” the publisher could correct the error before printing.
Can errors still happen even with professional proofreaders? Yes. Just ask any major publication. We lessen the chance of that happening when we ask objective and specifically-trained professionals to partner with us.
To self-proof or hire a professional proofreader?
What would you do?
*I culled information for this section from:
- Technical Communication Today, 5th Ed., Chapter 19, specifically pp. 505–508
- STC’s Technical Communication 101, Leah Guren; rebranded as TechComm Fundamentals Bootcamp
- Proofreader Marks: Gamma-Ray Productions <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/29143375@N05/4575806708″>Manuscript</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
- Brown Fox: volkspider <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14543400@N04/14765101649″>Proofreading marks example</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>