Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made, and hopefully it is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things in your otherwise perfect manuscripts will stand out.
Anita Campbell, in her May 28, 2015 guest post for the SBA’s Blog-Industry Word says: “The first step of effective proofreading is understanding that not every typo or issue is alike. Each needs to be attacked in a different way.” While she is speaking of editing blogposts, and short works, that profoundly true of longer manuscripts.
Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there may be places where the reader’s eye will stop. Words have been left out, punctuation is missing–any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur even after the most thorough of edits.
After the final edit we go over our work with a fine-toothed comb, trying to proof it ourselves. We read it aloud, and we read it from the bottom up, but our eye sees what it expects to see. We catch many things, but we don’t catch it all.
This is where the third person in the process comes in–the proofreader.
First of all, proofreading is not editing. Editing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere, and is completed long before we get to the proofreading stage.
SO, at the outset, the proofreader must understand that no matter how tempting it may be, they have not been invited to edit the manuscript for content. That has already been done and done again. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.
What The Proofreader Should Look For:
Spelling—misspelled words, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These are words that spell-checker may or may not catch, so a human eye is critical for this.
- Wrong: Bobby wint out the door, slamming the screen.
- Right: Bobby went out the door, slamming the screen.
- Wrong: There cat escaped and he had to chase it
- Right: Their cat escaped and he had to chase it.
Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are insidious and damned difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t find always them. Sometimes they seem like unusually garbled sentences.
- Wrong: First of all, First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
- Wrong: First of all, it is accepted practice to practice thoughts.
- Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot thoughts.
- Right: First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
Missing closed quotes:
- Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man? asked Officer Shultz.
- Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man?” asked Officer Shultz.
Numbers that are digits:
- Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
- Right: There will be 300 guests at the reception.
Dropped and missing words:
- Wrong: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table me gently while I made hot water for tea.
- Right: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table grilling me gently, while I made hot water for tea.
Each time you create a new passage in your already edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error.
At some point your manuscript is done. You have been through the editing process, and the content and structure is as good as you can get it, but you need one last eye looking for small flaws. Before you upload that masterpiece to Kindle or wherever, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader, who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that.