Copyeditors are sometimes asked to do less than a copyedit on a project. We can be asked to proofread a layout instead, whether the manuscript has been copyedited already or not. It’s something we can adapt our skills to when we’re given the right information.
Proofreading comes in after the manuscript has been laid out. Because this is late in the publishing cycle, major changes are frowned upon. Among other things, proofreaders check:
Proofreaders are as concerned with the physical aspects of the document, such as size and layout, as with the text. They will correct for typos, double words, and bad word breaks, as well as for inconsistencies in usage and layout.
The Society for Editors and Proofreaders sums up the proofreader’s role nicely: “to check that the editor, designer and typesetter have each done a satisfactory job, and to use good judgement in marking amendments, to minimise costs and delays.”
As with editing, it’s beneficial to proof items by category. It’s more efficient and you’ll notice patterns (or a lack thereof) more easily. For example, you might check all the page numbers first, then the rest of the footer copy, all of the headers, all of the figure titles, all of the figure sources, and so on.
Before you start proofreading, though, be aware of the different types of proofreading. So far, I’ve discussed plain-vanilla proofreading, in which you compare the old (dead) version of the project with the new (live) version. The dead version may be the copyedited manuscript and directions to the designer for how to create the layout, or it may be a previous version of the layout with changes marked on it. Either way, your job is to ensure the live copy matches the dead copy, plus any changes noted.
Cold, or blind, proofreading is the same as regular proofreading, except you proof without the benefit of dead copy to compare to your live copy.
Editorial proofreading is different. Like cold proofreading, you correct copy without any previous version to compare it to (coldreading), but you’re also checking for some copyediting items, such as grammar, punctuation, and usage. You wouldn’t restructure sentences, move ideas around, or other major edits, however.
The Bay Area Editors’ Forum notes that editorial proofreading might be called for when the publisher is reprinting a work or when its concerned that errors might have been introduced during a heavy copyedit. It might also be called for in a manuscript with little actual context, such as with a directory.
More commonly, though, editorial proofreading is done when a company doesn’t understand the different steps in the publishing process or when it is trying to cut corners. If either of these are the case for you, try to educate your supervisor or client about what’s truly needed. At the very least, be clear about what your duties are at the start of the project so that you aren’t held responsible later.
More on Proofreading
For more on what proofreaders do and for how to do it, join us on April 11 for Proofreading, a live audio conference with veteran proofreader and proofreader trainer Sarah Price. You’ll learn how to mark up copy, how much you should intervene in the copy, and much more. Sign up today!