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Everything You Need to Know About Proofreading

What is proofreading? We explain everything you need to know about proofreading for beginners.

You’ve likely heard the term “proofreading” in writing circles – some people even use it interchangeably with the word “editing.”

But what is proofreading? 

What does a proofreader do? Do you need one? And how are proofreading and editing different?

In this article, we’ll define proofreading. Then, we’ll take a look at the importance of proofreading and how to proofread. To finish up, you’ll get eight proofreading tips and tricks.

Let’s get started.

(Psst! While we feature certain third party brands in this article, we are not affiliated with them, other than those related to Shopify and Oberlo.)

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process. It involves scrutinizing written documents to identify and fix minor errors in spelling, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and more.

What is Proofreading Definition

Proofreaders are primarily concerned with technical accuracy.

Even the best writers and editors miss minor mistakes that slip through the cracks. It’s the proofreader’s responsibility to ensure that all of these nitty-gritty errors are corrected before the document is published.

As a result, proofreading takes an enormous amount of patience and attention to detail.

These days, many digital tools aim to do the job of proofreaders, such as grammar and spell checkers. However, automated tools currently lack the understanding, accuracy, and reliability of a professional proofreader.

Proofreading vs Editing

Proofreaders identify technical errors and inconsistencies, such as spelling and grammar. In contrast, editors correct issues with the content, such as tone, readability, and structure.

Proofreading comes after editing in the writing process.

First, writers write. Then, editors help them improve and refine their work. Once the document  is finished, proofreaders do a final sweep to catch any mistakes the writer and editor have missed.

Let’s compare proofreading vs editing in more detail.

What Proofreaders Do:What Editors Do:
  • Are concerned with technical accuracy
  • Follow specific rules and guidelines
  • Focus on finding and correcting errors
  • Are objective and logical
  • Make minor modifications and adjustments – not big changes
  • Help make the document the best it can be
  • Improve the content’s tone, readability, and structure
  • Consider the emotional aspects of the content
  • Make substantial changes to the document’s content
  • Help to tailor the content to the target audience

Proofreading vs Editing

Why is Proofreading Important?

Proofreading is important for several reasons.

First, errors in a document can take the reader’s attention away from what the writer is trying to communicate.

For example, if a reader spots an error while reading a novel, it can snap them back to reality and take them away from the story.

Even one comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

As the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

To illustrate this point, check out the proofreading example in the image below.

Proofreading eg #1 - Sign reads: No, U-turn

The comma on the sign reverses the intended meaning and tells drivers to do a u-turn!

Even the smallest grammar mistakes can erode a reader’s trust and undermine entire brands. Minor errors can also cost publishers and organizations money.

Take this proofreading example from a cookbook called “The Pasta Bible,” published by Penguin Australia.

The mistake? Just one word. The cost? $20,000 AUD (more than $14,200 USD).

Here’s what happened: The recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto recommended seasoning the dish with “salt and freshly ground black people.” 

Proofreading eg #2 - the pasta bible

Oops! Now, we can safely assume that it meant to say, “black pepper.”

However, based on this error alone, the publisher destroyed all 7,000 copies of the book in its inventory at the cost of $20,000 AUD. 

The publisher also released statements apologizing “for any offense this error may have caused readers,” and offered a replacement copy to “anyone who feels uncomfortable about having a copy of the book in their possession.”

Bottom line, the importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. Without it, a host of problems can occur.

How to Proofread: 4 Things to Look for When Proofreading

Wondering what to look for when proofreading? Here’s a list of some common errors to identify:

1. Misused Spelling and Incorrect Word Choices

  • Proper capitalization of proper nouns
  • Misuse of the definite and indefinite articles “the,” “a,” and “an”
  • Prepositions
  • Incorrect homophones and homonyms, such as “weather” and “whether, and “they’re,” “their,” and “there”

2. Formatting Issues

  • Inconsistent paragraph spacing and indentations
  • Incorrect citation formatting
  • Misused or missing headers, footers, or page numbers
  • Layout issues, such as the placement of tables in the text or bad line or page breaks.

3. Punctuation Mistakes

  • Misused or missing commas, apostrophes, or quotation marks
  • Incorrect use of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes
  • Periods after abbreviations, such as E.g. and I.e.

4. Inconsistencies

  • Switching between U.S. and UK vernacular
  • Inconsistent presentation of numbers
  • Incorrect use of tense

8 Proofreading Tips and Tricks

If you’re trying to improve a document, try using these eight proofreading tips and tricks:

  1. Make sure to edit properly before you proofread.
  2. Do multiple rounds and focus on a different aspect of proofreading for each round.
  3. Take breaks between each round of proofreading to regain your clarity and objectivity.
  4. Read the document aloud to make it easier to identify errors.
  5. Read the text backwards one sentence at a time to isolate each sentence and make it easier to spot mistakes.
  6. Print the document and proofread it with a red pen.
  7. Identify any bad habits the writer or editor may have and pay particular attention to these habits.
  8. Use digital tools such as Proofread Bot, Grammar Checker, or Grammarly

Proofreading Tips and Tricks

Summary

Proofreading is the process of checking written documents to correct small mistakes in vocabulary, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more. 

It requires a lot of patience, focus, and attention to detail.

Proofreading is the very last stage of the writing process and it differs from editing. Proofreaders aim to identify and correct small technical errors left by the writer and editor. Editors work with the writer to improve the content itself.

Never underestimate the importance of proofreading – tiny mistakes can create disproportionately large problems, like in the case of “The Pasta Bible”.

Here are 4 things to look for when proofreading:

  1. Misused spelling and incorrect word choices
  2. Formatting issues
  3. Punctuation errors
  4. Inconsistencies

Finally, no one’s perfect. Every document will have mistakes in it. So take it easy, and don’t be too hard on yourself or the writer!

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