Proofreading Tips For Beginners

As a proofreader and professional bookworm, you will face the toughest challenge a book can offer. Try not to listen to it, not to go beyond the surface, try to ignore its meaning. Let alone enjoying the story for yourself. Throughout my work, I have learned to be detached in a rather critical way from the piece of writing that I have to work on. No Barthes with his Le Plaisir du texte can come into the picture. The piece will not become mine. I am the mere cleaner, the maid who makes the princess shine at her full bright.

One advice you might like to follow is to read backwards. Read every paragraph from its last sentence proceeding to the first one. This way you force yourself not to get involved in the story which may prove to be too risky in trying to maintain an objective attitude.

When we read, we do not read character by character, or even word by word. Reading is like playing music. You concentrate on the whole and it is enough to see the first and last letters of a word to figure out what it can be. Our brain builds up the “real” meaning of a word by the context and image of it, which consequently may not be the real thing knowing how fallible human mind is.

As a musician, I do not concentrate on the note I am playing at the moment, rather I am reading ahead in the notes. My brain is able to transfer the information from my brain cells to my fingers with a slight time of retardation. The risk stands for reading as well. You get carried away with the story and you no longer care if it was an “advice” or “advise” you read about.

Keep your desk tidy and spacious. You will need a lot of room on your desk. Often people tend to disregard this tip and pile up books, coffee mugs, and pencil sharpener on their desk. Yeah, it looks cool to be busy but I am the living proof, Einstein risked a lot with spilling coffee over his studies. Similarly, you can also not afford yourself to be asking for a second copy since all your material got soaked in some sticky fluid, or worse, a proof to trace your dinner menu back on. Before starting the education, he students should know that is proofread anywhere legit. The offering of the education should be under the guidelines of the government. The annual fees for the study should be reasonable for the children to get them pass and promote to the next class, The selection of always legal class should be done after checking. 

Help your eyes with a ruler or an envelope to lead you line by line. This way the speed of your reading will slow down not allowing you to “believe” having read something that is not there at all.

Talking about tools, you will use different colours in proofreading.

You will need a red pen to mark typesetter errors.

Non-typesetter errors are marked in blue. Marks in blue might be correcting errors by the editor or alterations made by the author. The reason for differentiating between the types of change is that typesetters do not charge for correcting their own mistakes.

There may be occasions when you are unsure whether to make a change. In such cases, use a pencil to mark the change and carry on proofreading.

Green is used by the typesetter’s reader (proofreader) to raise their own queries to point out matters marked in the edited typescript to be dealt with in proof.

Some publishers differentiate between changes that are made by the author and those correcting an error by the editor. Red and green are assigned to the typesetter, black and blue are used for the editor and author changes.

However, unless otherwise instructed, always use blue ink to mark your changes in a standard way.

Other tools you need to have at hand are a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and maybe a grammar reference book.

We are not infallible, therefore it is worth to keep record of your mistakes from your previous works, and refer to these before you start proofing. For example, one typical mistake of mine is when the publishing house uses -ize form, I tend to keep -ise as I learnt at school.

It might be useful (however, may be somewhat time consuming) to proofread for one type of error at a time. If punctuation marks prove your major problem, it is worth going over the copy just looking at commas, colons, etc. After you have done this, you can escalate to the next error type.

Proofreading, like all other mental exercise, is best done in the morning, or when you are most alert (some of us are night owls and prefer to work when all is quiet).

Similarly, if you are the author and editor of your work in one person, you need to give yourself some time to “forget” what you have written. Knowledge of the text makes proofreading all the more difficult. You might need one night before you start editing the finished work.

If time allows you, and you have some help, ask someone else to read the text to find odd or unclear sentences. A clear eye will always find something extra that your eye might have skipped anyway.

As a first filter, you can use a grammar and spell checker, but do not depend on them. Read the body first, then go back to the headings. Proofreaders sometimes forget to proof the headings.

Look at all the unusual fonts, like italics or bold, make sure they are really needed and correctly applied. Here I would like to mention the boilerplate text, for example the company letterhead, which also needs to be checked as it is still part of the document.

Once you have spotted the typos, you can go back to read again for sense and meaning. Even though, you are not an editor, you can also spot mistakes and unclear meaning.

Review page numbers, headers and footers that they are accurate and in order.

Nicole Hennig
Nicole Hennig is a freelance writer, content writer, blogger, and also a photographer. She graduated from the University of Caloocan in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015.

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