There was a time when if a publisher commissioned me for a proofreading project I could expect a large, heavy parcel of paper to turn up in the mailbox. The parcel would contain at least the final page proofs (see Not all proofreading is the same: Part I – Working with page proofs, Proofreader’s Parlour, January 2014). If I was required to proofread against copy, the parcel would also include the galley proofs (a printed copy of the pages of raw text supplied by the author on which the copy-editor had marked initial corrections).
Paper proofreading is an expensive business before the publisher has even paid the editorial freelancer’s invoice. And it’s a double whammy – the client has to pay for the proofs (and possibly the galleys) to be delivered to the proofreader, and it has to bear the costs of the return postage. I’ve worked on large academic books in the past that incurred postage and packaging costs of over £70 per proofreading project. And let’s not talk about the cost of paper and ink.
It’s not surprising, then, that some publishers and project-management agencies have embraced cost-effective solutions. PDF markup has proved to be an effective alternative. Digital delivery costs nothing as long as the client and proofreader already have internet access.
It’s not just good news for the client – the proofreader benefits, too. I live in rural Norfolk and have to drive to my nearest post office. That’s time that I can’t bill for, not to mention the wear and tear on my car (though HM Revenue & Customs does have a mileage allowance). Even so, I have better things to do.
Visits to the post office aside, many proofreaders have found PDF proofreading to be a more efficient task than paper-based work. For those of us working for publishers on a fixed-fee basis per project, this means a better hourly rate. Given that some publishers haven’t increased their freelance rates for many years (or have done so but only minimally), such efficiencies can mean the difference for the proofreader between continuing the working relationship and waving goodbye to the client.
The proofreader’s options for PDF markup
Most PDF editing software includes onboard commenting and markup tools for annotation purposes so that the proofreader can: mark for insertion, deletion and underlining; draw basic shapes and lines; highlight and comment; attach sticky notes; pin files; and type text and specific instructions to the designer (this typed text can itself be formatted in terms of font, size, alignment and colour, and it can be italicized, emboldened, underlined or struck out).
Stamps are another option. See The Proofreader’s Corner: Using the Stamping Tool for PDF Proofreading Mark-up, An American Editor, September 2015, for an overview of the subject. The Working Onscreen archive, here on the Proofreader’s Parlour, has other related content that may be of interest to new entrants to the field.
Platforms include (but are not limited to): Futureproofs (client pays for use of platform), PDF-XChange (considerably cheaper and trusted alternative to Acrobat Pro with excellent functionality), Acrobat Professional (well-known and trusted but expensive) and Adobe Reader (free, and increasingly user-friendly. Latest version is DC).
Potential pitfalls to avoid
Onscreen proofreading can save the proofreader and the client time and money, but there are a number of pre-project steps that should be taken to ensure that the final outcome is a happy experience for all parties. Making assumptions based on your own preferences, or your colleagues’ experiences, could lead to readability and compatibility problems.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader, the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour, and the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
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I am an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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