If there’s anything more frustrating than reading something that’s full of errors, it’s being told that it was proofread by ‘a friend who’s good at English’, or ‘Joe down the road who’s an English teacher’. Recently, this frustration has been escalated by seeing, on social media, the cover of a self-published book with numerous errors and an updated website homepage with eight horrors that I saw without even trying.
The ‘don’t-care-won’t-care’ attitude
Commercial publishers use proofreaders for quality assurance, to ensure each title meets the minimum standards for the trade. Every industry has standards – and most will have an institute or association to regulate these*. Publishing also includes anything uploaded to the web or any other medium where text is made available to an audience.
Self-publishing of books is very popular, but there is no gatekeeper to uphold even basic standards. The newbie novelist or ‘business guru’ will no doubt be told by friends and family, who have no connection with publishing, that they have produced a masterpiece. Worst of all, friends will say ‘a few’ (which can often amount to several thousand) typos don’t matter these days.
Well, they do. If you were to restyle your own hair with the ‘odd’ mistake in the cut you’d probably suffer some embarrassment. What does sloppy written English in your book or on your website do to your image? It makes you look like an amateur (or worse) and it also insults the reader’s intelligence. That might be your customer.
A proofreader needs a much wider knowledge of the language
An English teacher and a proofreader have different skills and knowledge.
The first difference is reading. The clue’s in the name. An English teacher reads text one way, a proofreader reads it quite differently. It takes a LOT longer to proofread properly, and an obsession for fine detail.
Second, according to the gov.uk website standard English is adopted for secondary school examination purposes. This is ‘the form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form’ [my italics] (Oxford Dictionary). A proofreader needs a much wider knowledge of the language in different contexts and is constantly updating this. Proofreading a report for the European Parliament presents different challenges to proofreading a company blog, for example.
Third, the ultimate aim is different. The English teacher corrects students’ work so they will learn from it and improve. The proofreader turns the rough diamond of a text into the polished final version, and the author takes the credit without necessarily being too interested in the corrections.
People and organisations that use qualified proofreaders also include some pretty big names in commerce – and they all understand the importance of producing high-quality written communication. After all, maintaining a professional image is a key success factor, whether you are selling online or publishing a book on quantum physics. So if you want a professional result – get a professional with the right skills.
*Professional organisations for proofreaders in the UK and Ireland