Why you should hire a professional proofreader – and whom to pick

“Most writing could be better. Not just a little better – significantly better … A little attention to the final details can kick ‘pretty good’ to ‘magnificent’.” (D Bnonn Tennant)

Why should you hire a professional proofreader before you make public your carefully crafted words? The quotation from D Bnonn Tennant above says it all – attention to detail makes a difference.

I assume you’ve written whatever it is that you’ve written because you wanted to communicate an idea to others – perhaps those words aim to entertain (novel, magazine), educate (thesis, monograph, journal article), inform (business report), sell a product (website, marketing brochure), or persuade (job application form, CV). It’s essential those words work for you, that their meaning is understood.

Writing is about communicating …

When you put words on paper (or online) you’re no longer just a writer – you’re also a messenger. However, every error you make distracts your reader from your message. The more mistakes you make, the more your message becomes clouded. Conversely, every error you don’t make allows your reader to sail, rather than stumble, through your text. Sailing really is the best way. Readers should “feel” the message in your words; they should be able to absorb the whole meaning rather than having to pick their way through each word, clause or sentence.

Right is quiet; wrong is loud

“Writers: get your work proofread. Your readers won’t thank you if you do, but they’ll damn you if you don’t.” That was my final message in an interview with editor and author Eva Blaskovic.

Perfect punctuation doesn’t leap out of the page and smack readers in the face. The bibliographic entry that’s rendered properly won’t have your audience emailing you to thank you for making it so easy for them to locate the primary references you used when writing your valuable research. No one will congratulate you for numbering all your tables and figures appropriately, nor for ensuring the cross-references relate to the appropriate entry in the bibliography. Someone you’ve cited won’t tell all their friends and colleagues that you spelled their name correctly. There’ll be no celebrations because you managed to name your protagonist consistently throughout your novel. And don’t expect applause because you managed to get that very important “l” in “public”, “h” in “thanks” or comma in “Come on, Eileen”.

Alas, it’s only the howlers that fly off the page, each one screaming, “I’m over here – look at me!” At best they irritate; at worst they generate a lack of interest. Somewhere in the middle lies confusion. And let’s face it – if you’ve taken all that time to communicate your message using the written word, none of those options is what you’re aiming for.

Should you do it yourself?

Of course you should – initially. Bear this in mind, though: your errors never leap out at you in the way they do to others. Writers are so connected with their own message that they often see what they want to say rather than what they’ve actually said.

How about asking a pal?

Again, yes – a fresh pair of eyes is always good. However, are you sure your friend has the command of grammar, punctuation and spelling that you require? Can he or she demonstrate a proven level of competence by referring you to others who can vouch for the quality of their work?

Since you’re about to share your writing with a public audience (whether an agent, your company’s staff or shareholders, your buyers, your examining board, your fans, or a prospective employer), wouldn’t it be safer to use an experienced proofreader, one who’s been trained to do the job and who can supply professional references that demonstrate they can do what they claim?

Choosing your proofreader – do your research …

Do some serious research when choosing your proofreader to make sure that you’re hiring the person whose experience is best suited to the nature of the material you’ve written. The following points aim to offer some guidance. Not all may be relevant to you but they may help you to decide what’s important when making your decision:

  • Give yourself enough time to find the right person rather than making a panic-booking at the last minute. You may find that some of the people you are interested in working with are not available at short notice. If you do the research ahead of time you’re more likely to be able to hire the person you want.
  • Contact several proofreaders and ask about their specialist subject areas and/or their career background. It’s about finding the right fit.
  • Ask to see a portfolio of projects they’ve worked on that match the profile of your own piece of work. This will give you an idea of how experienced they are and the degree to which they’ll be comfortable with the language of your project.
  • Can they supply good references or positive reviews from clients?
  • What qualifications and training have they completed?
  • Are they affiliated with a national editing/proofreading society like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, membership of which requires adherence to a professional code of conduct and demonstration of a certain standard of competence and/or level of experience?
  • Make sure you agree on what’s expected – proofreading is different from developmental editing, copy-editing, copywriting and indexing.
  • Be clear about the deadline for completion of the work and what the payment terms are.
  • Be prepared to send your prospective proofreaders a sample of the work so they can evaluate whether they are best suited to help you, how long the job will take and what the fee will be.

If you need assistance with other aspects of writing, such as story development, indexing, translation or getting published, you may find the following article of interest:  Writers – Tips for Using the Right Publishing Service.

Louise Harnby | Proofreader (www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com)

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