What Is Proofreading? Making Sense of the Editing Process

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

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Lots of people use proofreading to mean editing in general. But proofreading is actually a technical term used in the publishing industry to mean the final stage of editing, the step right before the book goes to print. This is the final check and the last opportunity to catch and correct errors, which makes it one of the most important steps in the entire book-publishing process. It ensures the manuscript is free of errors and polished to a high standard.

Proofreading happens after the book has been copy edited and is sent to a designer to be formatted and typeset. The proofreader works off of the proof, the digital or physical copy of how the book will actually look when printed. The proofreader’s job is to comb through the manuscript and find any mistakes that were entered into the document during revision or that escaped the copy editor’s passes. When you’re working with hundreds of pages and thousands of individual revisions, mistakes sneak through, even with the most skilled and meticulous of editors. This is why we have proofreading.

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What proofreading checks:

· Page numbers

· Headers and footers

· Formatting

· Images and captions

· Table of contents (checks if it matches what’s listed in the text)

· Consistency (such as hyphenated words)

· Ugly and confusing column and page breaks (“widows” and “orphans”)

· Capitalization


· Grammar

· Punctuation

· Spelling

Copy editing-like changes are costly to make at this stage, as the formatter must make them individually. They’re often only made if necessary, such as a typo or glaring subject/verb-agreement mistake.

What proofreading does not check:

· Facts

· Continuity errors

· Content, such as storylines and characterization

· Etymology

Can I proofread my own book?


Because you were heavily involved in the writing and editing processes, it will be difficult for you to see any remaining errors. As you read through the manuscript, your eyes will see what’s on the page, but your brain will skip over errors because it will tell itself what is supposed to be there, rather than what is actually there. This is why you need a “fresh set of eyes” to review it, someone who has never read the manuscript before and thus does not know what is supposed to come next.

Also, when you hire a professional, you will get an expert in the English language whose knowledge will make them better suited to spot errors.

If you are on a budget, this is not the place to try to save money. This step can make or break your book, as a book that has glaring typos leftover from rewriting and revisions is likely to garner some bad reviews.

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