The term ‘proofreading’ is loosely used to describe the corrections or changes made to a text by a proofreader. Since proofreading and copyediting are different tasks requiring different skills, as a first step it is important for both the client and the proofreader (or the company offering the proofreading services) to understand which service is being sought.
Proofreading is the stage that follows translation and/or copyediting. One could think of it as the final quality check. A professional proofreader should have an eye for detail to be able to spot and correct spelling errors (in case of different spellings, it is important to ensure intra-textual consistently); punctuation errors creating ambiguousness; repeated text and any other inconsistencies or occurrences in the text which disrupt the text fluency.
The client may also request to have formatting and layout details proofread, in which case this would include checking of the table of contents and/or indexes, checking of headers and footers; page numbers and cross-references, as well as captions and annotations. Therefore, the tasks of the proofreader do not include the rewording of phrases, making structural or sentence-level changes such as reordering of text or inserting titles, or fact-checking.
Regarding the latter, the proofreader would instead raise any queries with the client in order to clear any doubts, polish the text and make sure that the target audience receives the intended message in the intented way. The proofreader is ultimately tasked with ensuring a text is fit for purpose and meets the client’s expectations. There should be consistency and clarity, and no barriers to the reader understanding the message of the text. While the proofreader strives to pinpoint and correct all errors and mistakes, and be as accurate as possible, it is important to note that because of their subjective nature, some ‘errors’ may be disputable. This is why a steady flow of communication with the client is essential.
Strictly speaking, proofreaders only read the translated text without referring to the original text. They basically put themselves in the place of the intended reader and ensure that the document makes complete sense on its own, that is, the text should not ‘feel’ like a translation. Sometimes, the proofreader might decide to refer to the original document to ensure the correct order and layout of the text. For specific texts or when so instructed by the client, especially if it is an educational institution or an official body, the proofreader follows a given style guide, also called the house style.
The depth in which a proofreader goes depends on how complex, difficult or badly written the text is. When the material is straightforward, the proofreader goes through the text roughly twice, once for content and once for the formatting aspect which may include formatting of headings, numbering and layout and ensuring their consistency. This two-level approach is advisable since not even the most professional of proofreaders will be efficient if they are looking for different kind of errors or fine-tuning areas at one go. On the same note, a proofreader would not be able to sit for long hours scanning the same text as this would hinder his/her performance.
Interestingly, a series of short documents might prove to be more time-consuming for a proofreader as with each document, the proofreader needs to familiarise themselves with the text and its tone, follow the job-specific instructions and only then may he or she get up to speed with the actual proofreading. Obviously the more editing a text needs, the longer the work will take but generally the proofreader tries to minimise the changes made if the quality is good enough so as not to introduce their personal tone or his or her own stylistic preferences in the text.
It is paramount for the client to clearly communicate their wishes to the proofreader, or the company offering the proofreading services, to ensure the proofreader understands your needs. Be clear about whether you want the proofreader to check details like footnotes, bibliographic references, hyperlinks and tables of contents if applicable. If you have particular style preferences, be sure to let the proofreader know that you wish to maintain that tone or style, or improve on it; keep in mind the purpose of the text (commercial, technical, pedagogic, mediatic) and naturally the audience in mind. If you have any other queries or matters to clarify, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org we provide professional proofreading services in Malta and we will provide you with a quote for free.