Proofreading and editing are different. Proofreading is simply the final check of spelling, grammar, punctuation and consistency before publication. The clue is in the word ‘final’! Avoid hassle and save time and money by making sure you really are ready for proofreading. Here’s how…

Is your writing complete and in order?

Have you included everything you wish to include? (Consider contents pages, introduction, headings and subheadings, references, footnotes, bibliography, appendices, acknowledgements, cover blurb… all the written parts you will need.)

Have you taken out everything you no longer want? (As a proofreader, I will proofread what you give me and I have to charge accordingly, even if you later remove a large chunk.)

Have you finalised the order of what you have written – ie, the chapters in the book as a whole, subsections within chapters, and paragraphs within sections?

Once proofreading has begun, any changes risk introducing new errors. For example, inserting or removing a paragraph means I would have to re-check surrounding text to make sure the new material makes sense in context and has been formatted accurately. In addition, every new version you send increases the chance of versions becoming muddled and issues being missed.

Are you happy with the words?

Once you are sure that your writing contains all the bits you want, in the right order, it’s time to narrow the focus to the actual words. Are they suitable for your audience?

The overall tone – eg, academic, quirky, intimate or businesslike – should be consistent throughout. (This is certainly true of non-fiction. In fiction, tone and style may vary with different character viewpoints, but you still need to have sorted it all out before proofreading).

You may choose to rephrase some parts to vary sentence length or simplify vocabulary. Also consider your use of terminology and ask yourself whether your target reader will understand. For example, it’s good practice to spell out any abbreviations or acronyms on first use.

If you have shuffled the order or lifted text from an earlier, longer work, check that new characters or facts don’t suddenly materialise as if we should already know all about them. You may need to add a few introductory words to make things clear.

I mention these things because, when just proofreading, it is not my role to pass comment on them unless they really don’t make sense. I am more than happy to help you with decisions about content, flow, style and word choice, but that would be editing. (See more in my blog Do you know the difference between proofreading and editing?) Editing requires a greater level of skill and thought, takes longer and (sorry!) will cost you more. And it should be done before any final check.

Are you consistent?

When I proofread, I check for consistency as well as errors. For example, if there is more than one way to spell something, which way is right for your writing? How have you chosen to write dates, numbers, headings or abbreviations? How much space do you want to leave between sections? What style of bullet points do you prefer? (This is by no means a complete list.)

If you have checked all of these details and made a clear choice, it is much easier for me to spot if there is an anomaly, and correct accordingly. But if your style choice is not clear, I would have to ask you and await your reply, which takes more time.

A word about pictures

If you have pictures throughout your text, rather than on separate pages, you will need to give thought to consistency of layout and style (ie, spacing and captions). Any significant changes to the surrounding text can alter picture positions.

If I spot anomalies with pictures, I will flag them up as part of proofreading, but I’m afraid I cannot correct them as graphics are not my area of expertise.

So, are you really ready?

The harsh truth…

If, after you have sent your writing to me, you suddenly decide it needs an introduction, you are not ready for proofreading.

If you are still debating whether Chapter 3 would work better coming halfway through Part II, you are not ready for proofreading.

If you aren’t sure about the heroine’s name / the source of that quote / whether to use tables or bullet points, you are not ready for proofreading.

Even if you think you have done all those things, if it’s a first draft, don’t be tempted to send it for proofreading. I can guarantee it won’t be ready.

But if you have pondered over it, left it for a bit, come back to it, revised it and nurtured it until you can’t see what else you could do, that’s when you are ready for the final check from a fresh pair of eyes.

And I would love to be the one to apply the finishing polish before it makes its journey to the wider world.

Wondering if you need editing after all? Find out with a FREE, friendly appraisal (no obligation).