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Proofreading Process (Part One)

I estimate it takes 40 hours to seriously proofread an 80,000 word novel. It’s a daunting task, so here are some tips to get you through it.

At least this is the process that works for me.

1) PASS ONE: Read entire novel or short story before proofreading.

Why is this step important? I find if I don’t allow myself time to read, especially if it’s a good story, I don’t concentrate on proofreading, and I get engaged in the story.

I allow myself to jot quick comments as I read, but try not to do too much at this stage. Once I’ve done this, I can concentrate on the detailed proofreading.

2) PASS TWO: Check Basic Formatting:

Before checking for formatting, I get the document into a format that works for me. I:

  • Zoom in on the document. I go to the largest size my screen can take. This enables me to see each mark on the page.
  • Turn paragraph marking on. This allows me to see paragraph breaks and extra spaces.
  • Go into review mode and turn on track changes.
  • I’m heavy on the comments. When I make a change, if it’s not obvious why, I tell the author by using the comment function.

Things I check and correct (make consistent) during PASS TWO:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Do the same number of lines appear before and after each heading?
  • Is each chapter heading in same font and size?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Does the first paragraph of each section or chapter have 0 indents, while the rest are consistent?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same – am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (. . . and not …)?

I check these things because I think it gives the manuscript a professional feel. It shows the author took the time to check the details, even the ones that are boring to check.

I don’t like to write long blogs, so I’ll publish part two of The Proofreading Process on Thursday.  So yup, you guessed it. There is a pass three.

I hope this helps your proofreading. :)

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52 responses »

  1. I love check lists like this one, Kristina. I’ll be looking for the other parts to your system. And you’re right–it’s easy to get bogged down in the story rather than the editing so your idea to give the whole novel a reread is a good one. Do you print a paper copy for rereading or do you do it on screen? I like a paper copy.

  2. Elaine, I proofread on my computer. I do this because I travel and don’t like to carry paper with me. Also, the people I proofread for don’t live in the same city as me.

    But . . . The most important reason:

    I ask the author not to edit or change their novel while I’m proofreading. This means I have the master copy. When I edit on the computer I use the track change feature. This way, the author can accept or reject my changes in the same copy of the document. I find this avoids the situation where the author might introduce a new error when copying changes from a paper copy to their computer copy. I hope that makes sense.

    • Makes sense to me. And I love that feature for making comments and suggestions. I didn’t know you read others’ work, Kristina. I’ll keep that in mind.

    • Technically then, you are not only proofreading but also editing. Some publishers make the distinction between proofreading and copyediting, the former checking more for typos and formatting, the latter consistency, grammar, mechanics, clarity, word structure. That type of editing is most commonly done via computer.

      • Janet, Thanks for taking the time to comment. This is the 3rd comment I’ve received about the difference between proofreading and copyediting. I’ve corrected this for my next blog. It’s motivating having people contribute to this process.

  3. I really like the idea of reading the entire story before going through the edits. When I do critiques, I’ve found that I often get so caught up in the story that I forget to critique! Of course, that’s a good thing, so I tell the writer that, but the second pass is where I find the mistakes.
    Good checklist! I’ll stayed tuned for pass three. :)

  4. Thanks for the great hints on your proofreading process. Succinct and very effective. Often the stylistic review is overlooked, resulting in an inconsistent look.

    • Christine, thanks for the comment. I agree that the stylistic review is often overlooked. To me, even if the story is great, I feel let down if the the manuscript is not as close to perfect as one can make it.

  5. I find it nigh on impossible to proofread my work on a computer. I can’t seem to get intimate enough with it. So for me, it’s my own printed copy, and then I need a proof copy for final edits. I HATE going through edits with my publisher over the phone – conversations that can sometimes take 3 or 4 hours!

    • Sally, thank you for commenting. I had to learn to proofread on a computer. At first, I preferred the printed copy, but I travel a lot, and I got tired of having so much paper to carry. Congratulations on having a publisher. I hope it’s 3 or 4 hours of useful time, even though it’s hard to hear critiquing of the written word.:)

  6. Thanks! Always nice to read others’ approaches to the job.

  7. Katharine E Carter

    Thanks for the advice. I find my editor invaluable. I accept her comments and follow as much as possible unless it takes away from my story. I only use a computer and have found that I can miss a lot doing this.

    • Katherine, you make a good point when you say you “follow as much as possible unless it takes away from my story.” This is where the art comes in, and it’s a good reminder that you don’t have to make all the changes an editor suggests. Thanks for commenting.

  8. I wonder — are you copyediting or proofreading? What you describe seems like copyediting to me. Proofreading happens (or not) once the final ms. has been printed. It’s possible to find problems other than simple typos, and those can be queried, but it’s a later process, don’t you think?

    • Good point Luise. Thanks for pointing out that copy editing is done before the final proofreading happens. There is so much to learn about this business. Thank you for taking the time to share.

    • Copy editing is editing the copy, ie for spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense confusion, style etc. Proofreading is usually done after a book is typeset (to pick up on heading formatting inconsistencies and other things mentioned in the post as well as missed typos…) and a second proofread done on the print proof, preferably by a different proofreader.

      • Michellelovi, thanks for extra info on copy editing v.s. proofreading. I’ll correct this in part two. I appreciate you taking the time.

      • I’ve been a proofreader since the days of linotype. I’m usually hired by production editors in publishing companies. I work on first-, second-, sometimes even third-pass pages. The book is almost ready to be run on the presses and bound. Deadlines are set with an eye to making the date for the press run and it’s imperative that they be met. The proofreader and the indexer are the last sets of fresh eyes to see the book. Everyone else has been working on it for months if not years. Editors work to make the author’s meaning and intent clearer. Proofreaders take the point of view of the reader. What on this page will interfere with the reader’s experience? What might poke the reader in the eye? The proofreader’s job is also to make sure that the instructions of the designer and copy editor were carried out and that those instructions were consistent. I still have a few clients who send me hard-copy pages to mark up with colored pencils. In the past few years, most proofreading has switched to on-screen work, marking up PDFs with the Acrobat text edit tools. I also get contacted nowadays by authors who think they want a proofreader, but who actually want a copy editor.

      • When typesetting was done in metal, the proofreader didn’t make corrections. They marked on the proof copy where it didn’t match the edited copy.

  9. I stopped reading at your first split infinitive. I hope your list includes something on “to how stop killing adverbs”. (A split infinitive is the weakest–and most 8th-grade sounding–of constructs.)

    • Hi Ed. Thanks for the feedback and your sense of humour on “to how stop killing adverbs.” You are correct, and I’ll keep an eye out for this.

      • I must disagree. Split infinitives get a bad rap that they don’t deserve! CMS 16 (which, as I’m sure you know, is the gold standard for trade books) has this to say: “Although from about 1850 to 1925 many grammarians stated otherwise, it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometimes justifiably separate an infinitive’s ‘to’ from its principal verb {they expect to more than double their income next year}. See also 5.168.” Split away, Kristina! ;)

      • I must disagree. Split infinitives get a bad rap that they don’t deserve! CMS 16 has this to say:

        “Although from about 1850 to 1925 many grammarians stated otherwise, it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometimes justifiably separate an infinitive’s ‘to’ from its principal verb {they expect to more than double their income next year}. See also 5.168.” (Rule 5.106: Split infinitive)

        And here’s Oxford’s take:

        Split away, Kristina! ;)

  10. I’m learning things here, thanks Kristina for starting the discussion. Although “official” proofreading is done after a book is typeset, I think any early proofreading makes your manuscript more professional. For consistent headings, etc, could you create a template in whatever word processing tool you’re using?

    • Jan,
      A template is a great idea. This is one of those ‘duh’ moments, and I should have thought of a template earlier. Sometimes something is too obvious to see. Thanks for commenting. Now I have to go and make a template!

      • Kristina
        I work in a technical environment and I have templates for each of the main types of document (white paper, research report, etc.) with all of the main constructs defined. All of the authors have copies of these. It’s amazing how many return papers to me without following the template!

  11. Sea Never Dry, thanks for the supportive comments. It’s such fun to get the differing views. Who can live without the CMS?

    • Whoops! Sorry for the double post. :)

      • I have the CMS in my lap right now! :) Looking up something for my tech writing job.

        The more I read about grammar the more I realize that the straightforward rules we learned in grade school are excellent starting points for teaching grammar basics. But English grammar is more complex than that and the subtleties of style make it subjective.

  12. Jan,
    I’m glad you pointed out how complex English grammar is. The CMS certainly helps with the more difficult issues. I think it’s important to choose a style manual and stick with it. It helps me be consistent in my writing. I also tell my beta readers that I use CMS, so if they question a format or style, they know what I’m following.

  13. Don, That’s a fun historical tip. I guess things have changed a lot in this industry and will continue to do so. I’ll just hang on for the ride.

  14. Great info, and lovely comments threads. How about (for shorter spells of proofreading) printing out a hard copy and reading the words in reverse direction so you are not making sense of sentences?! I do that too.

    • Okenyodo,
      I know this wasn’t your main point, but shorter spells for proofreading is certainly a good idea. As soon as my mind starts to wander, I take a break. Even a few minutes helps and I think the author deserves my full attention.

      Reading in reverse also helps. Makes me focus on the words and not the story.
      Thanks for the reblog. I appreciate the visibility.

  15. Proof reading usually falls into many 80% – 20% category of conundrums.

    Most reader surveys show irritation with easily recognized errors thought to be easily solved with a better proof reader. I’m told the New York Times in the 1960′s considered 7 errors or less per galley (usually 21 column inches of 8 point type) acceptable.

    The cost to introduce a proof reading step followed by a correction step in the production cycle is much higher per key stroke as are most exception routines, which encourages combining the proof step in the editorial process instead of the production process.

    Some content requires as close to 100% accuracy as possible so different routines for proof reading evolved, including one proof reader, reading, as another listens while both compare copy to proof.

    • Don,
      These really are interesting bits of information. I bet the last step involving two people catches those hard to find errors. It takes a lot of hard concentration and focus to get to 100% error free. I usually see an error in my blog the second after I hit the publish button.

      With the extra cost of proofing late in the process, I can understand why a publisher would want to have the proofing done during the editorial process. Thanks again for the insight into the industry.

  16. Carol,

    Thank you for the detailed response regarding proofreading and copyediting. It’s really nice that busy people in the industry – like you – are taking the time to clarify this for me.

  17. I believe proof-reading should be done using printed output; I always catch more errors than if I do it on screen.

    • Ian, you make a good point that each person should use the technique that works best for him/her. I “see” more on the screen than I do on a printed page, but that’s probably because I like to read on a screen. I also also change the font size and font just to make my eye see the words differently. Thanks for commenting.

  18. Great post! I look forward to the follow-ups. One of my earliest freelance proofreading/copyediting gigs was with the American Bar Association’s ABA press, where each periodical had its own “spec sheet,” which seemed commonsense there but was embraced as a brilliant innovation when I proposed adopting it at a marketing consulting firm.

  19. Has anyone pointed out that you’re missing a word (“I” between “author” and “took”) in the sentence “It shows the author took the time to check the details . . .” in your antepenultimate paragraph? I’ll resist making the crack about what it shows about the author, but just observe that it does show that everyone who writes for publication needs an editor, even a professional editor.

    • Mark,

      Thank you for reading such detail. I think the sentence you are referring to is: It shows the author took the time to check the details, even the ones that are boring to check. I meant to use ‘it’ to refer back to professional manuscript. I didn’t mean ‘I’ took the time. I meant the author took the time to produce as close to an error free manuscript as they could before submitting it. Do this clear it up?

  20. I am clear about the two different aspects of copy editing — a process initiated soon after the copy leaves the writer– and proof-reading — the final process before the copy goes for print. As for reading interesting copy, I generally take a print-out after it is proof-read and then leaf through it. While the copy is on the proof desk, it is only another piece of work requiring me to clean through.

  21. Arrackal, It’s great that you can read the copy without getting pulled into the story. If the copy is interesting, I find that hard to do. Shows some good discipline on your part. Thanks for commenting.

  22. I am definitely going to say your latest three posts. Very helpful information. I have a lot to learn about the editing process…I think it’s what’s holding me back. Any information I can get is beyond helpful. Just want to say thanks for this.

  23. You should be a part of a contest for one of the finest websites on the internet.
    I most certainly will highly recommend this blog!


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