How to get the best out of your proofreader

I don’t mean to make us proofreaders sound like vacuum cleaners, but we do sweep the metaphorical dust from the corners of your work; we don’t come with instruction manuals, but if we did they’d be impeccable. My aim is rather to give you some guidance as to how you and your proofreader can work together to produce an excellent piece of work, and hopefully build a successful long-term relationship.

Give your proofreader a good brief

Your proofreader will need to know:

  • what is expected of him/her – proofreading for typos, incorrect punctuation, inconsistencies, grammar errors; or ‘proof-editing’, where turns of phrase may need changing for sense or clarity. Perhaps, in fact, you need an editor; your proofreader will be able to explain the difference and point you in the right direction to find one (or see my colleague’s article)
  • the format of the work. The work may be on hard copy (paper) or on screen (Word or PDFs). Your proofreader will most likely be able to deal with any of these, but will need to know at the outset which format to expect (e.g. hard copy will have to be sent by post, so timescales and postage costs will need to be considered).
  • your submission deadline, and the deadline you are giving to your proofreader. For a long piece of work (a report or dissertation), you will need at least a day to review the amended document. For a really long work (a book or a thesis), you will need significantly longer.
  • how much work you need doing on the text. Some clients require ‘perfection’; some people want only ‘glaring errors’ pointing out. The level of editing/proofreading should be made clear at the outset to avoid misunderstandings and to ensure that you get what you pay for in terms of time and value. You don’t want to find that your text has been over- or under-worked because of miscommunication.
  • grammar and style preferences; publishers, and companies who publish a lot of texts, will have a ‘style sheet’ outlining preferences for spelling (e.g. ‘-ise’ or ‘-ize’), punctuation (e.g. commas, hyphens) and format (e.g. style of headings and font). You, your company or your institution may not have a style sheet and if no preference is offered as to variable styles, your proofreader may make his/her own choice based on which changes are the most efficient to make. However, if you, your tutor, or your company has a preference or a precedent, let your proofreader know in order to prevent unnecessary or unexpected changes.

Be available

Your proofreader may need to contact you during the job to clarify a matter. If you are immediately available by telephone or email, this will speed up matters for your proofreader as he/she can act on your instructions and, if necessary, apply them to the rest of the text.

Manage your expectations

Time: remember, your proofreader will need at the very least the amount of time it takes to read through the work. More likely, he/she will need significantly longer: to read the text for its ‘sense’, ‘style’ or your ‘voice’; to read it word by word for errors/changes; and to read it again to ensure nothing has been missed and no errors have been introduced.

Limitations: your proofreader will not be able to ‘re-write’ your work (unless the work is non-academic and he/she offers this service), so your voice will be retained.

Cost: proofreaders are trained and experienced (and usually freelance). They need to earn a living wage, so it would be a mistake to expect rock-bottom prices in return for decent-quality work. They are, however, very approachable and will be happy to discuss rates with you.

Dealing with suggested changes

You and your proofreader have the same aim: to produce an excellent piece of work that is error-free, and that gets your message across to the appropriate readership. A proofreader may make ‘definite’ changes, or may make suggestions (via a list of queries or via the comments facility in Word/PDF documents). Don’t take the changes or suggestions as criticism of your work. Proofreaders have access to many reference and guide books that advise them on preferred style and grammar. While it is perfectly fine to ask why certain changes have been made and/or suggested (although questioning all amendments would inevitably extend the length of the job …), trust your proofreader the same way you trust your doctor or lawyer – to do the job they’re qualified for.

We are aware that having errors pointed out to you is not always pleasurable, but try to remember that you have done well to produce the piece of work in the first place, whatever the text might be, and that your time is most likely best spent working on the next project (or celebrating the completion of this one!). Also, remember that proofreaders use proofreaders too …*

Give a review

If you are happy with your proofreader’s work, he/she will be very grateful if you give them a positive review. This need only be a couple of lines, and can be done in various ways: emailed directly to your proofreader, uploaded onto a website (e.g. findaproofreader.co.uk or freeindex.co.uk), posted on Facebook or Twitter, or offered in the form of a ‘recommendation’ on LinkedIn.

Payment

Paying promptly is a must. A proofreader will be delighted to work again with a client who pays on time.

* Thanks to Louise Harnby

Johanna Robinson, proofreader, www.ascribe-editing.co.uk

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