The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
If you’re thinking about becoming a proofreader, it’s important to understand that this term can mean different things in different contexts and with different client groups. What type of proofreading you want to do and which group of clients you want to be work-ready for will determine the choices you make with regard to training.
Some proofreaders work directly with the creators of the written materials being proofread – independent authors, students and business professionals, for example. These clients send Word files and the proofreader amends the files directly (often with Track Changes switched on so that the client can see what’s been changed).
Others work for intermediaries such as publishers and project-management agencies. Here the author supplies the text files; then the in-house project manager (PM) organizes the various elements of the production process – including copy-editing, proofreading, typesetting and printing. After copy-editing and typesetting, the PM supplies page proofs to the proofreader, who makes annotations that identify where there are problems to be attended to. The proofreader does not amend the text directly.
In Part I, I gave the new entrant to the field an overview of what it’s like to be a proofreader working with page proofs. This week, in Part II, I consider proofreading work that involves working directly with the raw Word files.
Which types of client want to work in Word?
Most of the proofreading I do in Word stems from having been commissioned directly by the content creator – a business executive, a self-publishing author or a student. Academic writers, particularly those submitting articles to journals and for whom your first language is their second, are also likely to send Word files. Only one of my publishers asks me to proofread in Word.
What is the proofreader looking for?
It depends on the client's expectations (see below: Disadvantages) and your terms and conditions. Certainly, when it comes to proofreading for non-publisher clients, the definition of proofreading starts to look unclear and the boundaries between this and copy-editing become blurred. Unlike with page proofs, I'm not able to check the final designed layout of the file but I still need to read every word.
Some of the issues dealt with in the list below would be acceptable to the proofreader working for an academic author but not when working with a Master's student. (Some clients may even want/expect a level of restructuring, rewriting and checking that a proofreader wouldn't consider to be within their remit.) Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.
What are the advantages?
What are the disadvantages?
There are still legal issues to consider …
Even if you are working directly with the primary authors of the content, you still need to get their permission to upload their text to third-party sites if you want to utilize software that's not on your computer.
Last week I gave the example of how when working with publishers it’s fine for me to run the paid-for PerfectIt plug-in on my PC, but how I can’t take advantage of the free online consistency checker available on the PerfectIt website. The same applies if you've been commissioned to proofread for students or businesses. Their files are their property and they send them to you in good faith, so you must get permission for their content to leave your computer.
What does this mean for training?
Knowing the software ... If you want to proofread in Word, you'll need to be proficient in using it. Word is one of the most powerful pieces of word-processing software available, and there's a huge amount you can do with it if you want to proofread (or edit) efficiently. You may therefore need to supplement your proofreading training with learning that focuses on using macros, making the best of Find/Replace and wildcards, using Track Changes, and Microsoft Word usage in general.
There's still the issue of how much to interfere ... If you do end up proofreading for a publisher client who wants you to work in Word, it will still be necessary to consider the issue of when to leave well enough alone, as discussed in Part I. However, independent authors looking for a proofreader may actually be expecting a deeper edit and will be disappointed if you're not prepared to rewrite sentences for them. If you've not had experience of, or training in, editing, you may find that a "proofreading" project ends up being a bigger bite than you can chew. One of my colleagues feels that specific training in editing isn't always critical when working with business clients, whereas for self-publishing novelists it would be very important. I'm inclined to agree. I'm relatively comfortable suggesting improved sentence construction to a business client but would be very wary of doing so with an author of fiction. What this shows is how blurry the edges can become and how important it is to have a detailed conversation before you begin a project.
I haven't trained as an editor, and I often encourage independent fiction authors looking for a proofreader to consider hiring an editor first. Other colleagues have both editing and proofreading skills so they're better placed to take on jobs for non-publisher clients that fall in the editing camp, or somewhere between editing and proofing (proof-editing). If you think you'll end up straying beyond the realm of proofreading, you might consider adding copy-editing courses into your training mix. Think about what type of client you're going to be working for to help you decide what's appropriate.
Summing up …
Proofreading isn't some catch-all phrase that means the same thing to every client group. What you actually do, on which medium, how much you interfere, the extent to which you can use complementary tools, and the expectations of the client will differ greatly. This means a range of competencies will need to be acquired depending on whom you’re working for. Your training will need to match the requirements of various client groups – a publisher’s expectations in terms of industry-recognized standards will be different from a business executive’s or student’s, so take care to research any proofreading training syllabus carefully to make sure it’s providing you with the skill set relevant to your target client group. Your training should suit your needs, your business plan, your objectives – and what will be right for one person may not be right for another.
Read this article's sister post: Not all proofreading is the same: Part I – Working with page proofs.
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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