What is proofreading, and do I need it?

The St. Paul's Literary Service - David Brookes

As part of a short series on editorial processes, I will be looking at proofreading, line-editing and copy-editing to give some insight onto the features that distinguish them from one another. To begin with the simplest, this week I’ll talk about proofreading.

What is proofreading?

Most writers already have a basic understanding of what proofreading entails. Once you have written the work, a proofreader will carefully examine your text for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. They might mark the errors for you to correct, or they may correct the errors themselves if they’re working with a digital copy.

Proofreaders don’t examine things like structure, or whether your paragraphs ‘flow’ when being read, or if they fit together smoothly. A simple way to remember a proofreader’s scope is to think in terms of sentences. The proofreader will generally work one sentence at a time, forgetting everything that comes before or after it. Are the words spelling correctly? Is the sentence correctly formed in grammatical terms? Is it properly punctuated? Is it formatted correctly and consistent with the rest of the document?

Beyond this, we have ventured into the realms of editing, not proofreading. However, a good proofreader should also look for consistency in your word use, regional spelling (consistently UK or US English, for example) and presentation. If you’re working towards a style guide, they will check that you have been consistent with this (note: check that it is so, not make it so).

When proofreading for clients, I personally go a little further and give a ‘semi-edit’. Most people find it very useful to know whether their sentences fit together properly (cohesion) and are easily understandable and readable (coherence and flow). Some, but not all, proofreaders will add comments justifying their changes or recommendations. At STP Editing, this is part of the service.

A deeper look

Assuming that your proofreader is working with a paper copy (such as a teacher marking your printed essay), you may get your paper back covered in mysterious annotations (usually in the notorious red ink). Whilst these glyphs are probably undecipherable to the average person, they are actually the useful language of the proofreader. Here are some examples:

https://fairfieldwriter.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/proofreading_symbols.jpg?w=584

How will proofreading help?

If you are writing an academic piece, such as an essay, dissertation or PhD proposal, then you will be assessed, in part, on your ability to write in your chosen language. It’s therefore essential to ensure that your paper is error-free.

Or perhaps you’re a budding author, itching to self publish your new story, novel or poetry collection on Amazon or a similar platform? Don’t even think about it until you’re confident that it’s totally error-free and is of a publishable standard. No writer wants bad reviews based on an unpolished manuscript (trust me!). A proofreader will be able to help you with this.

If you’re a business, the last thing you need in your marketing material – or worse, proposals or important reports – are simple typographical errors. Customers are less likely to engage with a business that they consider unprofessional, and a flier, website or menu riddled with errors in written English could be their first contact with your brand.

Do I really need a proofreader?

Maybe, maybe not. Even professional writers use proofreaders (or at least take full advantage of their publisher’s in-house editors), as no matter how many times you scour your own work for errors, there always seems to be a few more you missed the last time. It really does take a fresh pair of eyes to ensure that your work is completely without errors.

I hope no offense is taken when I say that not everybody is an expert in written English. As competent or enthusiastic as a person is, they might not necessarily be familiar with the changing landscape of English grammar or totally conversant with the finer points of syntax or punctuation. Not to mention that there may be issues that you don’t recognise as errors: incorrect capitalisation, mixed or broken metaphors, and incorrect spelling and punctuation are common. A word processor won’t necessarily know that you haven’t written what you meant to write.

Finally…

The St Paul's Literary Service - David Brookes

 

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Hiring a Freelance Editor: Dos and Don’ts

David Brookes editor

If you’re thinking of hiring a professional proofreader or editor to look at your essay, thesis, fiction, CV or business report, then you aren’t the only one. This is extremely common practice across the world, and there are a lot of resources available to make this simple and easy for you.

There are several websites for hiring freelancers. Elance.com and Freelancer.com are two popular examples. As a freelance editor and ghostwriter, I prefer Freelancer.com for its ease of use and the quality of the projects that are available. Think of these sites as a kind of eBay for services. You, the employer, will post a project listing your requirements, budget and deadline, and freelancers will tender for the job. One of them might be me, so keep an eye out for the best!

David Brookes, freelance writer and editorLook at this guy! He looks so hardworking and honest. You’d trust him to babysit your kids!

When looking to hire a freelance proofreader or editor, there are some simple dos and don’ts that you should bear in mind:

DON’T:

  • Hire the cheapest freelancer. I hate to use adages, but “you get what you pay for” is true for editing and ghostwriting services too. The cheapest are often non-native speakers with poor skills, or actually agencies disguised as individuals. If someone seems like the best person for the job, this should be your priority, not the fee. Maybe it will be worth spending those few extra quid.
  • Expect a freelancer to sign a contract just because you asked. You might think an off-the-net non-disclosure agreement or ghostwriting contract is sound, but most freelancers aren’t lawyers and you probably aren’t either. If you feel a contract is necessary, work with your freelancer to write one that is as simple as possible that you can both accept – it’s still binding, with the added advantage that you both actually know what the hell you’re signing!
  • Disrespect the professional. Just because you’re hiring someone it doesn’t mean you can treat them like dirt. A lot of people subconsciously watch others for the ‘waiter rule‘, so behave like someone is watching (often there is: most freelance sites have a dispute and arbitration team). You will get better results by building rapport and acting sympathetically towards your freelancer’s other commitments and responsibilities. So be cool, guy.

DO:

  • Be clear with your requirements. My favourite employers are ones who tell me exactly what they expect from me. That way I can do a great  job for them first time without any complications or second attempts. It works out best for everybody that way, so don’t feel that you’re asking too much by spelling out your project requirements.
  • Choose your freelancer carefully – very carefully. There are a lot of freelancers out there. Some of them are underqualified, and some are downright shifty. If you’re writing in English, you will get better results hiring someone who’s native language is English. This may sound obvious, but there are a lot of people on freelancing sites, particular from India and Africa, who have convincing proposals and highly-rated reviews. However, I’ve spoken first hand with people who have paid for well-written proposals, and many reviews are from employers in their own countries who don’t necessarily realise they have received a substandard product. Be wary of profiles that don’t have an individual touch, such as a photo – a lot of ‘freelancers’ are actually agencies, where one person with decent English skills subcontracts to lesser-skilled workers in exchange for a commission. Chat to your freelancer before hiring them and be prepared to ask blunt questions.
  • Ask for testimonials and/or samples. One way of weeding out the dodgy freelancers is to ask for testimonials and samples of their editing work. These can be faked too, but if you’re really astute you will probably spot those that might be copied off the internet, or with annotations written in a style different to your freelancer’s manner of speaking. If you’re hiring via a site like Freelancer.com, check out the freelancer’s reviews in detail instead of just relying on the overall rating.
  • Have fun! Your editor is a person too, and however professional they behave they are just as likely as you to want a friendly chat and how-d’you-do if you both have the time. Especially when working on longer texts like theses or novels, you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to one another, so don’t be afraid to get to know your editor, build a rapport, and enjoy the process!

—db


 

David Brookes is a freelance editor in the UK. You can hire him via the Contact page or his profile on Freelancer.com.

Got questions?

Questions

The website now has a handy-dandy FAQ section!

If you have any questions about the packages available from the St. Paul’s Literary Service, you can now look them up.

  • What level of editing service is provided?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • How are the changes shown?
  • Do you provide a sample?
  • Can you check my essay for plagiarism?
  • What sort of things do you ghostwrite?
  • Can you format my e-book for me?
  • Can you give me some tips for how to get published?
  • Do you have a translation service?
  • Do you give English lessons?
  • Can you help me pass my TEFL course?
  • What are your qualifications and experience?

If you still have questions, you can always use the Contact page to get in touch.

Happy seeking!

—db

Welcome

Featured

Welcome to The STP Literary Service website,
the official site of freelance writer and editor David Brookes.

On this site you can check out his ghostwriting and editorial services, view his portfolio and feedback, and follow his regular blog (below) for news about his latest literary publications and new services for writers of all kinds.

David Brookes
The STP Literary Service

All Things New: 2015

Fireworks over the Thames in London, New Year's Eve 2015

Fireworks over the Thames, London – New Year’s Eve 2015


Happy New Year for 2015!

A lot of people are asking what I’ve been up to since my brief misadventure in China a few months ago.

It’s been a tough few years, between an awful corporate job in 2012, to landing back in the real world after six months traveling India and Asia, and my TEFL training and subsequent awryness (I’m MAKING it a real word) last year.  I flew to China; I came back.  I had the option of beginning the cycle again by getting another crummy job in another  office, neither employing my qualifications or creativity for a basic minimum wage in an environment I couldn’t stand.  I chose not to take that option.

For the last year or so I’ve been taking the occasional bit of work editing.  A lot of this business came via word of mouth and my clients were mostly foreign students who had essays and dissertations to hand in and wanted a bit of help with their written English.  Sheffield is blessedly cosmopolitan and its two universities has students from all over the world.

Since I got back to the UK I decided to begin freelancing full-time, and have since had a lot of success.  Editing and proofreading has been a handy constant, from education, academia and journals, to resumes and even fiction, poetry and love letters.  I’ve also developed a reputation for ghostwriting fiction and articles, and have taken commissions in various genres with plenty of repeat business.  Lastly, I’ve managed to flog a few of my own humble fiction and screenplays.  I’m surprised by how quickly it’s all taken off.

It’s strange that after years of hard work and mixed success, I’m suddenly able to legitimately call myself a writer.  It’s a very strange feeling to have pretty much realised my oldest dream.

I’ve also had a fascinating education these last two months.  Either from editing various papers or by researching for my own writing/ghostwriting, I’ve made plenty of deposits into my Bank of Useless Information.  I’ve had The Bank for years, much to the bemusement of my friends and family.  Recently I’ve developed my knowledge of:

  •  Ophthalmology (that’s eyeballs to you and me)
  •  South African culture
  •  Pheonicia
  •  Middle-Eastern mysticism
  •  Current trends in erotica
  •  The Armenian art scene
  •  Scientific psychological experiments involving monkeys
  •  Species of cats
  •  The state of the Chinese housing market
  •  South American folklore
  •  Jewish holocaust poetry

… And they’re just the ones that I can tell you about without betraying confidentiality (which I take seriously).  It’s been a wild ride, accentuated by the occasional bouts of panic that are probably common amongst the self-employed.  The good news is that I’ve had some incredibly flattering feedback from all my clients so far.  Hopefully I can continue that trend into 2015, whilst TEFL and salaries take a back seat.

It seems a little redundant to have a blog about my exploits ‘abroad’ now that I’m more-or-less permanently based in the UK for the forseeable future, but I think I’ll keep the title.  Consider me ‘abroad’ on the ocean of discovery as I see where my new life takes me!

All the best for the New Year, and much love,

David Brookes
Freelance Writer & Editor