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Proofreading – pain or gain?

Some people are funny when it comes to proofreading. I’ve had some say they don’t need it because they are (a) an English teacher (b) already publishing on Amazon or (c) capable of writing in perfect English, so what’s the point?

The points (plural) are these. NOBODY can proofread their own work. NOBODY is as up-to-date and knowledeable about the English language as a professional proofreader. But the most important point is that your written work reflects your image and professional competence. In education circles, it can make a difference in your grade or even the difference between a pass and a fail. If you are a trainer, how will you look credible in front of the learners with the written material full of errors? If you have produced a novel, it may affect the reaction (therefore sales) to your self-published book, or lead to rejection from an agent or commercial publisher you have queried with the manuscript.

Image credit: renamarie / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: renamarie / 123RF Stock Photo

I see some new websites being launched and sychophantic followers telling the graphic designer who produced it, that it’s wonderful. They don’t appear to notice the glaring mistakes that a proofreader would have found in seconds and corrected in minutes. (There are also issues with poorly-written copy, where the web designer apparently didn’t employ a professional copywriter either but that’s for another time.) I don’t pretend to be a graphic designer so why do they think they are proofreaders?

My clients are not poor performers in their use of the English language; some are prize winners or best-selling novelists, others are ESL academics producing important research papers for world-wide distribution. But they all have one thing in common – they want to ensure that their work is as near perfect as possible, and using a proofreader is a cost-effective way of ticking the important spelling, punctuation and grammar boxes. I get enquiries from people who think their work only needs ‘a few corrections here and there, as their brother/wife/cousin/mother has already gone over it’. Several hundred corrections later, they begin to realise exactly what a proofreader can do to help them to simply bring a manuscript up to a minimum trade standard.

Don’t think spellcheck will help either. It won’t highlight ‘rearing to go’ (raring to go) barmy weather (balmy weather) or ‘compliment’ (complement);  not to mention the old favourites there/their/they’re, and to/two/too. The list is longer than you think. Some people use exclusively American spellings or words when the context is UK/Irish, and others simply make words up. I didn’t believe stories of the made-up-word ‘alot’ until I saw it on social media. Go to a dictionary (such as the excellent Online Oxford Dictionary) and look up ‘allot’, then ‘lot’. The online Oxford Dictionary is is a great resource, giving background and usage information as well as examples in sentences. As for punctuation, it’s too easy to rant about the misuse of the apostrophe; do you know how to use a colon or a semi colon? Do you know what a comma splice is?

Image credit: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo

Of course, nobody need know you’ve used a proofreader anyway, unless you are so delighted with the result you wish to give a public testimonial thus ‘owning up’ to using one. We can be a shy bunch, often working away in the early hours and most do not wish or demand to be recognised as a contributor to the finished piece. Pick up just about any published book; is there an acknowledgement of the proofreader who worked on it, or the editor, or anyone else from the ‘back room’?

Whatever the standard of the original content, we are here to make it – and you – look better. You are the one who takes the credit.

 

By Gill Pavey

Twitter @ProofreaderGill

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