1 Does my proofreader need specialist subject knowledge?
2 Does my proofreader need to know what type of content I am writing?
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In my recent post about ten tips for proofreading your own writing, number ten was to call in a professional if you lack the confidence or the time to do it yourself. Googling 'proofreader' will throw up more options than you'll know what to do with, so it helps to think about your requirements in order to narrow down the field before contacting anyone.
1 Does my proofreader need specialist subject knowledge?
This may be more necessary in some fields than others. If you are writing about a niche academic subject it may be absolutely essential that you hire a specialist editor who understands the concepts you are discussing and the subject-specific language that is involved. This also goes for law, medicine, maths and statistics, where small errors could have serious consequences and in-depth knowledge is necessary to spot them.
On the other hand, if you are writing for a general audience it can be a great help to work with an editor who isn’t from your field to make sure that your writing is accessible. They will ask questions from the perspective of your readers in order to clarify your meaning. Sometimes we can forget how much we know about a subject and make assumptions about what others will know. Your editor can help you pitch at the right level for your audience.
2 Does my proofreader need to know what type of content I am writing?
Depending on what you’re writing, you may want to hire a proofreader or editor who has experience with the type of content you are producing.
Your editor should be able to reassure you that they have experience with what you are writing. For example, some editors work exclusively with fiction, others focus on academic journals, still others have a broader portfolio of work covering several different areas.
3 What type of file should I send my proofreader?
How you will be sending your writing to your proofreader or editor is an important consideration.
Almost all editors will be happy to receive a Word file which they can work on, usually using Track Changes to show you their edits.
Proofreaders usually work on files which have been typeset, so a PDF will be the common file type here. This means that your proofreader can check that headings, layout, cross-references, the table of contents, page numbers, images, tables and captions are all correct, as well as the spelling, grammar and punctuation of your content.
If you are working in InDesign or LaTeX, you will want to be sure that your editor has the necessary software and is confident using it and editing in it.
You may be a hard copy diehard, preferring to write in good old-fashioned pen and paper. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and some editors still prefer to work in this way, going as far as printing out electronic files they receive in order to work on paper.
The important thing is to establish this early on, so that you editor knows what to expect, and whether they are the right person to work with you. For example, I don’t work in LaTeX and have only had very basic InDesign training, so I wouldn’t be the best person to work on files of this type.
4 Does my proofreader need to be local?
In today’s world of instant global communication, location need not be an issue. I work with clients from Mexico to Hong Kong, and all points in between, and it doesn’t make any difference to the work I do for them.
Don’t assume that you need a local proofreader or editor – the best person for you may be hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away.
However, location may matter to you. You may prefer to support a local business, or you might want to be able to meet your editor face to face to discuss your requirements and the progress of your project.
What comes next?
These four points are a good start in the process of finding a proofreader or editor, but what are your next steps? My next blog posts look at where to find one and how to tell if they are the real deal.
If you've a question about finding a proofreader or editor, I'd be happy to answer it. Just pop it in the comments below.
How do I proofread my own writing?
So you've written your blog, or your new landing page, or your latest marketing copy. You're pleased with it. It reads well. It gets your message across. You're hovering over the publish/print/send button ... but, WAIT!
Are you confident that it's perfect, with no errors: no typos, no missed words, no copy-and-paste mistakes, no grammar slip-ups? Have you dealt with spelling, punctuation, capitalisation and hyphenation consistently?
Yes? Well done. Hit that button and give yourself a pat on the back.
Not so sure? Then check out my ten tips to clean up your writing.
If you'd rather watch the video version, you can click on the image below.
1. Let it breathe
If you can, put your writing to one side. Let it sit for a day or two if at all possible - even a couple of hours can give you a fresh perspective. You'll be surprised at what you can catch when you come back to it. Mistakes will seem to jump off the page at you, or you'll think of a better way to word a sentence. It's much better that you catch that than your readers.
2. Don't trust spellcheck
Automated spelling and grammar checks have their uses, but they're fairly limited. They tell you if you've spelled a word incorrectly, but not whether it was the correct word to use in that context. Did you mean emphasise or empathise? Form or from? Public or pubic (seriously, that's a really common one). And, frankly, some of the grammar suggestions that Word can make are just ... weird.
3. Change the font
Changing the font and/or the point size will force words onto different lines, giving it a fresh look and letting your brain see the text differently. You'll pick up different errors this way, and then you can just change it back once you're finished.
4. Print it out
We read differently when we look at a page of print rather than a screen. Many editors will print out hard copy to catch things they would have otherwise missed on-screen.
5 Use a ruler
Stop yourself from skimming along, reading what you expect to see rather than what's on the page. Use a ruler to force yourself to slow down and read line by line, really taking in each individual word.
6. Make several passes
Rather than trying to do everything in one go, separate the various points you want to check into several passes. Read through for spelling first, then look again at the grammar, then check the punctuation. In a longer document you'll want to take a separate pass to check the formatting of subtitles, page numbers, headers and footers.
7. Read your writing backwards
As weird as it sounds, starting from the end of a document and reading backwards, word by word, focuses you on spelling and word choice. You'll also pick up repeated words that you may otherwise have missed.
8. Read it out loud
If you're alone you can read your writing out loud to hear how the rhythm of the text sounds. If you're in a busy office, put in your headphones and use the text-to-speech facility. You'll pick up whether your sentences are long and rambling and in need of breaking down into more easily digestible parts. Or if they're short. And all about the same length. Which can sound monotonous. And will quickly turn your reader off. No matter how great the content.
9. Ask a friend or colleague to check it
This can work well if you can set up a reciprocal arrangement with a colleague to check each other's writing. However, it can quickly unravel if you're producing a lot of content to check - how long can you keep relying on someone's goodwill? After all, they've got their own work to do. And can you be sure that they're going to do the job to a high standard? There's much more to proofreading than picking up typos. Why not take the Society for Editors and Proofreaders test and see if you've got what it takes!
10. Call in a professional
OK, so this isn't exactly a DIY solution. But if, despite all of these tips, you still worry that you're missing things, or that you need help to tighten up your writing, then call in an expert, just as you would to rewire your house, or cut your hair, or service your car.
You can search online directories, such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, or FindaProofreader, or the Glasgow Editors' Network, for example.
So there you have it. Ten ideas for cleaning up your writing. You certainly won't need to use all of them. You might find that just one of these techniques is all it takes to give your writing that final polish. I'd love to know which ones work for you, so drop me a message in the comments and let me know!
In my next post, I'll look at how you can choose the right proofreader or editor for you.
Thanks for reading this far! If you've got any useful or unusual tips for proofreading your own writing that you'd like to share, let me know in the comments, below.
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
As a thank you, you'll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.
What is the difference between a proofreader and a copy-editor?
Kate asked for more than just the definitions she came across when googling, so I’ll try to make this as relevant as possible.
Traditionally, copy-editing and proofreading are two very separate stages in the publishing process.
What is a copy-editor, and what does a copy-editor do?
Once you have your thoughts down on paper (or, more likely, on screen), you hand over to a copy-editor. It’s their job to clean up your writing and make sure it’s the best it can be for your intended audience.
This means making sure that the content makes sense, reads clearly and well, and is consistent in its tone and style.
This can involve reordering and restructuring your sentences, perhaps shortening an overly long sentence or combining shorter ones to improve the flow.
Has your cutting-and-pasting of chunks of text resulted in missing or double words, or incomplete sentences? Or have you mistakenly copied rather than cut, meaning whole sentences or paragraphs have been repeated? Your editor’s fresh eyes will spot this, when you have read it so many times that you're reading what you expect to see, rather than what's actually there on the page.
Do you have subject–verb agreement in your sentences? Have you been consistent in your choice of tense? Have you placed your modifiers correctly, or are they dangling?! Your copy-editor will check these finer grammar points for you.
Dealing with these points won't strip the life out of your writing, or make it dull, formal and bland. Sensitive editing will remove all the stumbling blocks that may catch your readers and distract them from what you're saying, polishing your words until they sparkle and let your message shine through.
If you or your company has a style sheet, your copy-editor makes sure that it’s adhered to, and that how you treat spelling, capitals, hyphenation and punctuation is consistent, especially if there are several people contributing to the document.
It may be that your editor needs to sort out and order the headings and subheadings of a longer document or book. The references and bibliography will need attention too, to make sure they are correctly styled and cited.
All this should be done BEFORE any design or layout, usually in a Word document; editing shouldn’t be done in PDF, as changes at this stage can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
What is a proofreader, and what does a proofreader do?
Once the copy-edited document has been designed and laid out, your proofreader is the final gatekeeper before the 'publish' button is pressed.
He or she is the last set of eyes on your blog/book/white paper/annual report/webpage before it goes live, and it’s their job to check for any errors or omissions which may have been missed at the copy-editing stage, or those which have been introduced during the design and layout process.
Your proofreader will also check that the style guide (if there is one) has been followed, that headers and footers are correct, that the chapter titles and page numbers in the table of contents match up with the rest of the document, that any cross-referencing to other pages or chapters is accurate, and that the spelling and grammar is A1.
But what if your needs fall between the two? Is proof-editing a thing?
Yes, it is. Outside the traditional publishing world – and, increasingly, inside it too – the lines between the two roles are blurred. Small businesses, big organisations, charities – anyone who is producing content – may have a need for a more individualised service.
It’s not uncommon for editors to do what is known as proof-editing – a bit more intervention than a proofread, but not a full-blown copy-edit.
If you produce pretty clean copy which needs a fresh eye to proofread it, but which will also benefit from small changes to sentence structure or rewording to improve the reader experience, then this may be for you.
You may be repurposing your content – perhaps using the transcript of a video for a blog post. Even if the transcription service removes all the ums and ers, you may still find that you’re left with incomplete sentences or repetition which, while effective in your video, isn’t appropriate for a blog post.
Do I need copy-editing, or proofreading, or proof-editing?
Help! I still don’t know what I need.
Ask. An editor is there to help you, and it’s vital that you are both on the same page (literally) before the work starts.
The discussion around what your requirements are is absolutely essential to making sure that you get the level of editing you need.
The last thing you want is to hand over your writing for what you thought was a little bit of light pruning and it comes back having been cut to the bone. Some writers want that amount of intervention, but many don’t.
We can use a scalpel or a chainsaw. The choice is yours.
A good editor will take the time to discuss your requirements with you. They will ask to see a sample that is typical of what you are asking them to work on – giving them something that you've redrafted four times, had three friends and your nan read over and then run through Grammarly isn't going to give them a realistic picture of your raw text. So show them the real deal, in all its glory. They will have seen worse. I promise you. And there's always the chance that your writing isn't as bad as you think it is!
Your relationship with your editor can be of huge benefit to both of you. If you can take the time to review the changes they make, and to understand why they've made them, then you can learn how to avoid making the same mistakes, making you a better writer and giving your editor cleaner copy to work from. And a win-win situation makes everyone happy!
I hope I've answered your question and demystified what copy-editors and proofreaders do. If you're still not sure, or if this post has generated more questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. Thanks for reading!