What does a proofreader do?

01 Jun

When most people think of “proofreading”, they are actually thinking of copyediting, which I’ve discussed in a previous post.

Proof-reading is, officially, checking proofs of a publication just before they are published.  So when I’m proofreading, I’m effectively looking for different things to when I’m copyediting.  For a start, the document is often different – for example, when I’m working on a magazine or book, the text I copyedit is usually presented to me in a word processing programme like Word, whereas the proofs come in pdf format.  That’s because that’s how, essentially, they will go to the printer, so they represent the final, finished form of the book or magazine.

All of the grammatical, punctuation and spelling stuff should have already been covered by the copyeditor, and the facts checked by the copyeditor, editor, author or fact-checker (whether or not I’m one of these people in the project too).  What I’m now looking for is inconsistencies and errors in how the text and the surrounding “business” appears on the page.  So I’ll check for …
for books and magazines:
– page numbers being sequential and starting at the right point
– pictures having captions and the captions describing the correct picture
– widows and orphans – individual words or lines which get left alone on either the previous page to the main text (e.g. if a paragraph starts at the bottom of the page or, worse, there’s a short phrase introducing a quotation or the beginning of a text box) or the page afterwards (the last few words of a paragraph or text box, for example)
– changes in font size that weren’t intentional
– the contents page or list matches what’s there in the publication
for books in particular:
– the running headers being correct, i.e. one has the publication name and the other has the chapter title (for the correct chapter)
– chapters all starting on a right-hand page as you hold the book open
– all extra material (bibliographies, index … ) included and in the right order

As it’s in pdf format at this point, I’ll use my software to annotate the pdf and then send it back to the client.  Sometimes I’ll get a second look at it once these corrections have been made.

And that’s what a proofreader does.


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20 responses to “What does a proofreader do?

  1. Sue Morris

    August 18, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I really hate to question someone who does this for a living, particularly as it’s something i’m extremely interested in myself, but I noticed you stated that you checked for grammatical errors too and you have a beauty in the above text.
    You’ve written ‘looking for different things to’ it should be, ‘looking for different things from’.
    Was this just a case of spot the deliberate mistake? 🙂


    • Liz Dexter

      August 18, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      Thank you for your comment and it’s good to know that people spend time closely reading my words. Oxford Dictionaries say that while “different from” was traditionally the ‘correct’ form and is still most commonly used, “different to” is also permissible and used by what it calls ‘respected writes’. So I think I’m off the hook there.



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