March 8 is National Proofreading Day!
Edit, proofread, revise, beta read—there are so many different terms for the act of reviewing a manuscript, and they’re all connected in some way. But proofreading is the easiest to define, and it’s the one thing people should do out in the real world, in emails and other correspondences, rather than just within the realm of their manuscript. So what is proofreading? And why is it so important?
What is a proofread?
A proofread is a cursory review of any written document in which the reviewer is looking for any glaring errors, like spelling, grammar, and mechanical issues.
A proofread does not involve comments about plot, character, or theme (that’s developmental editing or beta reading).
A proofread does not involve recommendations for smoother, clearer language, tone, voice, or concision (that’s line editing).
A proofread is merely meant to correct small and objective errors like misspelled words, dropped commas, incorrectly formatted ellipses . . . and so on.
When does a proofread occur in a book’s production process?
No matter when or what kind of proofreading you’re doing, it’s almost always the final step.
When you’re building a book, the proofread occurs last, after all the other editorial steps mentioned above. After the developmental edit, after the rounds of line and copy editing, after the book is “done”—that’s the right time to conduct a proofread. The point of the proofread is to catch lingering glaring errors, so you wouldn’t want to keep messing with the manuscript after. In the odd case that bigger work does need to be done on a manuscript after its proofread, it’s a good idea to get a second proofread.
A proofread might also be conducted on your book after the printer’s proof has been printed. A printer’s proof is one single copy of your book that the printer provides so you can ensure the book looks the same in real life as you thought it would based on the computer files. Because this is a new way of looking at your book, a proofread is advised. There may be some errors in your book that didn’t stand out on the computer, but in print they may be more obvious.
Who conducts a proofread during a book’s production process?
It’s a good idea to let a fresh set of eyes proofread your book. If you’ve been working with one editor through the developmental, line, and copy edits, you won’t want that same editor proofreading your book. Why? If the editor has already missed this error once or more, the odds are good that they’ll miss it again on the proofread.
Often, your publisher will ask a new editor, one you haven’t worked closely with, ideally one who has never read your manuscript before, to proofread it. If they’ve never read your manuscript before, they have no expectations of it, and therefore they’ll be able to catch glaring errors more readily.
Where does proofreading happen outside of a book?
This is really important! Proofreading isn’t just for writers. When you write an email to a friend or a coworker, when you draft language for your kid’s school bake sale flier, when you write a report—when you write anything, ever, that matters at all—you should proofread your own work.
This isn’t hard or time-consuming! All this means is that you should read through what you’ve just written before smashing that “send” button. What if you typed something wrong? What if the computer flagged a misspelled word for you to review? What if you phrased something super weird, and simply reading it back could help you realize there’s a much clearer way to say it?
Proofread your own work, always. You owe it to the other people around you to make your correspondence easy to digest, and you owe it to yourself to come across as smart and thorough.
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