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How to work with a proofreader
In my life as a copywriter, I've written and proofed many types of copy, including financial and technical details. Ask about my proofreading services. It's not my main line of work, but I'll happily serve as "fresh eyes" at a competitive fee, which may be based on word count, hourly, project, or retainer.
As I was saying, I've worked with all sorts of styles and content, ranging from highly conversational copy to specification charts, technical topics, and financial services. That's one of the interesting things about business-to-business copywriting: the variety and opportunity to learn new stuff.
You can see samples at Rensch.com/samples, and other aspects of my work here at my site.
My degree is in Journalism (B.S., University of Illinois). I originally followed the NY Times Style Book, but we in the advertising business rarely need to refer to a formal authority. These days, I generally use my own standards, but I can follow whatever style you prefer.
I should probably add this note: As a copywriter, I have sometimes worked with "official" proofreaders – people who do nothing but proofreading all day long. They did not revise my text; their job was just to find typos and such. As a copywriter, I did not want them messing with my carefully crafted rhetoric. Now, when working as proofreader, I remember how I felt. I respect the writer's choices, and I "only" proof for errors in typography, grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and (when meaning is confused, or words don't correspond) syntax. If you want an editor, I can do that, too (see below), but it's not the same job description.Here are some tips on working with a proofreader:
First, proof it yourself. Run it through spellcheck and maybe a grammar checker. Do NOT change your copy based on robotic suggestions. They don't have the sensibilities of a real, human copywriter, and they are sometimes wrong. But do correct anything that is clearly wrong. By cleaning up the copy a bit yourself, your proofreader can focus on what remains.
There is no such thing as "perfect" copy, and there are many ways to write up any thought. A proofreader has to make various choices as to writing style, grammar, and punctuation style. The differences between various style manuals (Associated Press, Chicago, New York Times, etc.) is just one example. Your company and your readers may also have certain conventions. (For example, programmers might prefer "linespacing" or "line height," whereas general grammarians might want "line spacing" and traditional typographers say "leading.") If the choice of style is important to you, then discuss it before the work begins. At least in general terms – is the copy supposed to be formal, informal, conversational, academic, or what?
Above all, the proofing choices should be consistent. Any inconsistency should be for good reason. If you use the Oxford comma, use it consistently. If you prefer not to use it, will it be okay to use it when the meaning would be otherwise unclear? If you like the more "modern" sans-comma style, I recommend making exceptions for clarity. (If it is legal text, a lawyer should be involved. Unlike 200 years ago, nowadays a comma can affect legal meaning.)
An accurate, detailed description makes your job easier to quote. When asking a professional proofreader to estimate your job, be prepared to provide several representative samples.
If you have a ton of copy to check, have your proofreader do a small batch first. This enables you two to confirm that his or her choices are to your liking. It will also confirm the estimate of the time required.
If your schedule allows a bit of extra turnaround time, please do. This reduces pressure and might allow your proofreader to give it an extra scan.
Before beginning, discuss how you would like comments to be returned. If the proofreader has a question, should he or she pose it as a Word comment, or embed it in the text (using a different font color, for example), or in a separate list of notes, or what? Be prepared to exchange before and after documents as Word files, which will allow more flexibility in this regard. For short texts, HTML email will also work. Your proofreader can help choose what method is most convenient for all involved.
Explaining every correction takes a lot more time. You might want the first job to include explanations and options (and pay a bit more to cover that time), but as you come to understand and trust the proofer's choices, just accept the changes and ask about any few that bother you. You're hiring a proofreader, not a tutor.
Keep in mind that the more questions your writing invites from the proofreader, the longer the proofreading job will take. When you work with an experienced pro, proofing often goes fairly quickly, even if there are lots of errors. But writing up comments, notes, questions, and alternative wordings can be a real timesink. It is best if you can cover these issues at the outset, so they needn't be dealt with again and again.
Don't be annoyed if the proofreader seems overly critical, marking up words and passages that you consider "conversational" or otherwise acceptable nits. It can take a proofreader significantly longer to mentally alternate between "proofing" mode and "analysis" mode. That's because we humans tend to read phrases and thoughts, but a proofreader must read word by word. Deciding whether an error is "important" disrupts that process. Maybe it uses a different part of the brain, the way your brain might "think" in a foreign language, vs. translating each word as you go.
Hopefully, your proofreader will adjust to your general preferences. (By the way, do you want to catch conversational and clear, but hackneyed, conventions such as "Hopefully"?) But if he or she has caught errors that are unimportant to you, don't think they are padding the bill. Catching everything might actually take less time. Just ignore any catches that you don't care about.
Does the writing consist of works by multiple authors? You should discuss this with your proofreader. In my experience as an editor, I have been reminded that some authors do not want their writing messed with, even so far as punctuation, even if it's "wrong." On the other hand, other writers are grateful for any corrections and even embellishment (although that is not part of proofreading), thinking that it only makes them look even better. Both viewpoints are correct, but some common ground needs to be defined. It may be easier to work things out with the editor or proofreader, rather than offend, say, a guest blogger writing for free.
... Which raises the question: Are you looking just for a proofreader (e.g., to check the spelling and punctuation of your blog posts), or do you want an editor, (who can also improve the phrasing, clarity, and maybe reorganize or even add to the content)?
Some global issues to consider:
But, to repeat ... above all, make the formatting consistent. As long as words are spelled and used correctly, and your punctuation is consistent, you don't need to be embarrassed.
There's a saying in the voice-acting business: The actor should make the engineer's job easy. The same is true in proofreading. A professional proofreader should understand that clients differ and so do their needs. The easier you make it for your proofreader to understand your needs — your company, your readership, the publishing environment, and so on — the easier it will ultimately be for you. And the faster and more affordable the essential task of proofreading will be.
These pages are also related to proofreading and attention to detail:
You can also interactively search my Samples.
Do you have a project, question, or suggestion in mind? Let's put our minds together.