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What does a proofreader do?




They just correct spelling and grammar mistakes, don’t they?


Well, yes… and no! Of course, they’re two functions of a proofreader – and especially important ones, too. But we do so much more for our writers. Here’s what we really do:


Spelling, typos, & autocorrect errors

Mistakes can irritate the reader. I made one when typing this; I typed “tow” instead of “two”. Autocorrect didn’t pick it up because “tow” is a real word!


Wrong words

Many words in the English language are used incorrectly because they sound the same but have different spelling and meaning; we even have a name for it – homophones! Commonly confused words include to/too; your/you’re; stationery/stationary. A word might be chosen if there’s confusion about which is correct - ‘lay’ and ‘lie’, for example.


Grammar

Writers often make mistakes (and proofreaders will make them too!) because we write as we talk, or we’re trying not to write as we talk and fall into traps! Grammar can be tricky. Business writing calls for correct grammar, whilst fiction writers might deliberately use poor grammar, in dialogue, for example.


Punctuation

Are you confident when to use a comma? A semicolon? Should that be one word, or hyphenated? Where should the apostrophe go?


Use of capitals

Do you know when to use capitals and when not to? If you’re talking about the “Prime Minister, Boris Johnson”, or if it’s just “the prime minister”?


Sentence structure

Making sure each sentence makes sense. Often writers are thinking ahead of the speed they’re writing, so it’s easy to miss an incomplete sentence or mix up tenses.


Consistency of use

This might be as simple as using “for example” in some places and “eg” In others. In fictional writing sometimes names get changed through the story; Mrs. Smith becomes Mrs. Smyth, or Pete had blue eyes in the first chapter, but by the third chapter they’re brown!


Readability

Is it clear? Is there too much jargon for it to be easily understood? Using short words is usually better than long words, and the same applies to sentence length.


Tone of voice and appropriateness

Is it appropriate for the reader? A business document uses more formal language than most fictional writing. Are there references to sensitive terms or language that may offend? Is this aimed at an international audience – common sayings might not be understood the same in other countries!


Font size & type

Would you pick it up if your 11pt font size changed to 10pt part way through? It’s quite common to find changes through a document and miss them!


Spacing, line breaks & page breaks

Are the line and paragraph spacing consistent throughout? Has a title been left at the bottom of the previous page?


Formatting & layout

Are titles and subtitles consistent? It’s easy to forget what font or size you were using by the time you get to page 10! Do page numbers in the contents match the chapter pages?


Numbers

Have the rules for numbers been followed? Numbers one to nine typed as words, 10 and more use the figures. But, don’t start a sentence with a figure!


Fact-checking

Although authors are accountable for any facts they use, proofreaders will check that links do go to the right website, the telephone number is correct, and President Biden is the current president. They will also check fictional names to make sure that the villain in the story doesn’t share the same name as someone in the public eye! Do the sums in the table add up to the amount in the total? Are the tables, images, or other figures numbered in sequence?


Phew! That’s a lot of checking for your proofreader. It takes time. It takes a fresh pair of eyes if you hope to spot them all. Even proofreaders won’t catch everything, as proven when you read a book- there’s nearly always an error or two to be found. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) states that proofreaders should find in excess of 80% of mistakes.


A good proofreader can reliably check about 3,000 words per hour, of a simple document. This won’t include fact-checking or a contents page (because there’s a lot of back and forth checking here).


Is your writing ready for a proofreader? Time to make your writing fly…


When you’re ready, contact Carrie

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