Proofreading is usually performed on a manuscript that has already been through developmental editing or copyediting and has been laid out by a designer into page proofs. It provides a last review of egregious errors, such as basic grammar, punctuation, spelling, and inconsistencies, and any other errors that were introduced during the design process. Proofreaders may also check copy for conformity to type specifications and the style sheet and ensure attractive typography by checking kerning (spacing between characters), margins, word spacing, repetitive word breaks, and the like.
Proofreading is not editing. Some people expect proofreaders to lightly edit the text, while still being paid the proofreader’s rate. If the proofreader is doing more than catching typos, spelling errors, and layout mistakes, the proofreader is providing the service known as editorial proofreading.
An editorial proofreader should have strong grammar and editing skills because he or she may only be working with laid-out pages and not have an edited manuscript as a reference. However, editorial proofreading may be done before the manuscript has been laid out. Editorial proofreading combines proofreading with some copyediting tasks, such as correcting misspellings, typos, misnumbering or mislabeling, subject-verb disagreement, word usage, and incorrect or outdated cross-references. If copy (portions of the text) is missing, the proofreader should request it. Editorial proofreading may involve typemarking and making marginal notes to show the first citation of illustrations, tables, and other display elements. If so instructed, the proofreader may change single quotation marks to double quotation marks.
The proofreader also checks for incorrect word breaks at the ends of lines. Publishers often request editorial proofreading when previously published material is to be reprinted or when there are concerns about possible input errors in material that has been heavily edited or dramatically reformatted.
To learn more about proofreading, check out Editing 101’s Lesson 1.
April Michelle Davis has been the executive director of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) since 2018. Prior to that, she was NAIWE’s Social Media Marketing Expert. NAIWE is an association that focuses on career building for writers, editors, and other professionals in the publishing industry by developing multiple streams of income; it helps its members market their products and services through social media, newsletters, and more.
She is also the coordinator for the Virginia chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association, a lifetime member of the American Copy Editors Society, and a freelance editor, indexer, proofreader, and author. April Michelle has taught courses through her own company, Editorial Inspirations, as well as for associations and colleges on topics such as editing, indexing, grammar, writing, and creating macros.
Her credentials include a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Messiah College, as well as certificates in editing (University of Virginia), book publishing (University of Virginia), and professional editing (EEI Communications).
April Michelle has shared her insights about her career development by contributing quotes and vignettes to several books. She has presented sessions on various editorial topics to many groups, including the Virginia Writers Club, the Communication Central conference, Randolph-Macon College, the Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, the EFA, Copyediting newsletter, RavenCon, and the Hanover Book Festival. In addition, April Michelle has published three books.