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Proofreading – the Perfect Profession for a Pendant

January 27, 2011

By Margie Riley

I make no bones about it; I am a pedantic control freak when it comes to reading and writing, but you should not assume that this trait is followed through into my enthusiasm for housekeeping…  What bliss, then, to have found an outlet for my frustration – and my creativity.  Others may write (most) of what I proofread and edit, but the finishing touches – perhaps a nuance that slipped past the writer, a pertinent phrase, the incorrect use of a word thus altering the meaning just a tiny bit – are where I can be of help.

One of my friends, a successful published author, has asked me to write about my process for proofreading and editing.  Oh bliss, oh joy!  Or is it?  I will have to bare my soul so that you, dear reader, will be able to follow my journey into the minutiae of proofreading.  She has asked that I give you an outline of how I approach my work; i.e. that of correcting and proofing copy for personal use or for publication.

To ensure that the proofreader’s work is less onerous, and therefore less costly, it’s best if you present your work in double-line spacing.  I am happy to receive it in that format either electronically or in hardcopy (ebook versus tree-book).  If you want your work proofread electronically, facilities such as Microsoft® Track Changes are a boon both to you and the proofreader.  If you want a physical hard copy there is room for notations and comments in the margin.  The wonderful thing about Track Changes is that it does away with the need for knowledge of all the arcane proofreading symbols used in the past – I bet that does your heart good, doesn’t it?

So how do I start?  Well, when I receive the document I sit down and read it through.  Initially I make a note of, and fix, the obvious typos, spelling errors, and punctuation changes required.   I find that if I try to read it to get a general sense of the work, before I undertake that first process, I am constantly side-tracked by these things I ‘need’ to resolve.  Once I have it in some sort of order – and appealing to my sense as a reader – I then go over it again, and again, and again, and again in order to make sure that the sequence, the timelines, the dates, are consistent; that goes for style, tense, names and characters too.  Then I read it through, out loud, to myself.  Hearing it makes an enormous difference, even though it’s best to do it while you are alone, or with just the dog for company; you know what they say about people who talk to themselves…

After that I print it.  Then I go over it again!  It’s amazing what you find when you actually have the work in your hands.

In between these reviews, the reading and the printing, I am in touch with the author to keep them informed of progress and of any changes I suggest.  My modus operandi is to keep a running page of comments and to add to that as I work through the manuscript; then I email the comments page to the author with the altered MS.

My aim is never to alter the manuscript unduly and make it unrecognisable to its creator, or to be heavy-handed – after all you, the author, are the one with the brains and imagination to bring the work to life.

Margie Riley is more than a proofreader and editor, she is a wordsmith. She is a member of the Queensland Society of Editors, a local writers’ group and a number of professional and networking organisations. Margie has a mind for trivia, a passion for words, a sharp wit and a well-developed sense of humour.

Find out more about her services as an editor and proofreader at Proofreading Guru.

  1. January 27, 2011 12:49 am

    thanks for this Margie -I’ll have to try extra hard now to ” mind me ps and qs!!”

  2. January 27, 2011 1:59 am

    Thanks for the insights — your post was very interesting! I certainly agree that having the text in hard copy makes spotting errors so much easier. I guess our eyes scan across the computer screen more carelessly than across a printed page, for some strange reason.

  3. January 27, 2011 4:17 pm

    Sometimes we writers aren’t thinking about the editors or proofreaders who are looking at our work. Even a tip as simple as double spacing one’s work is extremely helpful. Thanks for the insight!

  4. January 28, 2011 5:48 pm

    Thank you for your encouragement. Glad that I gave you something to think about. It’s all about cooperation, isn’t it? Cheers – M

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