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  • Writer's pictureTara

When Proofreading Is Not Proofreading

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

You've finished writing your novel. Or your memoir, or your training manual, or your how-to book. Congratulations! You should be very proud of yourself. But what is the next step?

A lot of people will tell you that you should have a second set of eyes read it over to make sure there are no errors in it. They say, "Get a proofreader!"

While this advice is always given with the best possible intentions, a proofreader is probably not what you need at this stage. Unless you have self-edited and have an almost flawless manuscript, you won't be ready for a proofreader yet.

A proofreader is someone who reads the proof. The proof is the copy that is completely ready for printing. This means that it has been through many stages, and many people have played a part in getting it ready for printing.

Briefly, the stages are:

1. writing

2. editing (self-editing, and/or developmental edit, and/or copy edit, and/or line edit) 3. revisions (usually many and after each editing stage)

4. formatting

5. proofreading

So, those people who told you to get a proofreader were not wrong; they just had the timing incorrect.

We have come to think that a proofreader does all the revision work when it comes to correcting writing. So much so, that we've lumped all the jobs into one title. However, the jobs are very different and require different skill sets.

This is why it is a good idea to show an editor or proofreader a sample of your writing before hiring, so that they will understand what it is you need and can help you get the best value.

Correcting your grammatical and spelling errors do sometimes fall to the proofreader, but a proofreader is most often looking to correct smaller, but just as important, errors—things like typos, missing commas, a word that is sitting all alone at the top or bottom of the page (called widows and orphans), a hyphenated word that isn't supposed to be hyphenated, or page numbers that are incorrectly numbered.

The proofreader does not fix awkward-sounding phrases, paragraphs that are out of sequence, or inconsistencies, such as a character who had brown hair in chapter one and blond hair in chapter two. They also won't bring it to your attention when the dialogue is weak, the jokes are flat, or the descriptions are confusing. These are areas that an editor will bring to your attention and make suggestions for revision.

It is perfectly understandable to not know the differences in the tasks that editors and proofreaders do. In fact, some editors blur the lines between types of edits. It can be difficult to leave an error just because it "isn't a proofreading job."

For example, when I see that the page numbers in the Table of Contents are ordered incorrectly, I will let the writer know, no matter what I'm hired to do. But if the formatting has not been done yet (which will change the page numbers due to the size of the pages being changed), then that would be something that I will leave for the proofreader.

When you are ready to hire the second set of eyes to read over your writing and correct the errors, remember that there are different stages, and the examination will be for different types of corrections.

If you are unsure what you need, your editor or proofreader will (hopefully!) be more than happy to guide you to what is actually required to polish your writing and your manuscript.

I offer free, 1000-word sample edits so that both you and I can fully understand the scope of the project. If you need help deciding what your manuscript needs to get it ready for submission or self-publication, I would love to hear from you!

All the Best!


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