what is proofreading

What is Proofreading?

If you ask someone what proofreaders do, they’ll probably tell you they check the spelling, punctuation, and grammar in a document. And they’re not wrong! That is part of the proofreader’s job, but there’s so much more.

When asking “what do proofreaders do?”, we must first see where they fit in a typical writing/editing process. You can see from the table below that the proofreader is part of a broader team, coming in at Stage 4 of the process. Usually, their work only begins after the text has been finalised by the writer and copy editor, and after it has been professionally laid out. So, proofreading is the last detailed, quality check before the document is published.

What is the Typical Writing/Editing Process?


Stage 1: Writing

  • A writer drafts copy and usually self-edits.
  • The writer hands over the copy for editing and design.

Stage 2: Editing and design

Different people are involved depending on the complexity of the copy:

  • Short copy may go from the writer directly to the proofreader.
  • Longer copy may go to an editor, designer, copy editor, typesetter, and proofreader.

Stage 3: Copy-editing and typesetting

  • The copy editor edits and corrects errors, resolves queries with the writer, and prepares the copy for the typesetter.
  • The typesetter formats the edited copy according to the design.

Stage 4: Proofreading

  • Usually, the proofreader checks the page proofs in their final layout.
  • Sometimes the proofreader sees many versions of the page proofs, as the pages go between the proofreader and the typesetter for correction. But, sometimes the proofreader only sees the page proofs once.

Stage 5: Printing/online formatting

  • The publication is printed in hard copy, and/or built on an online platform.
  • The proofreader may be involved at each stage, checking for errors and inconsistencies.

Stage 6: Publication

  • The publication is marketed, promoted, and distributed.


Think about something that you have read that had errors or inaccuracies in it – after a few of these, you begin to doubt its trustworthiness and reliability. You might even start to question the writer’s or publisher’s expertise.

It’s the proofreader’s responsibility to make sure that every issue, mistake, and inconsistency – in the text, images, and formatting – are ironed out, leaving no distractions which interfere with the reading experience.

But the proofreader is not alone in the editorial team; they are just the final “eye”. There are other kinds of editors, each viewing the text through a different eye.





Substantive, developmental, structural editing, or content editing

Detailed editing and marking up of the design and any corrections for the typesetter

Detailed checking and correcting of proofs in their final layout – one step away from publishing


Editor: “Scanning the Trees”

The editor considers the “big picture” and suggests improvements. For example, the editor asks and checks, amongst other things:

  • How appropriate are the content, language level, style/voice, and tone for the intended audience?
  • Is the message clear and does the content meet the purpose, aims, or stated outcomes?
  • Is the content accurate?


Copy Editor: “Examining the Forest”

Copy editors read the text before it is in its final laid-out format. They check macro issues such as the structure, flow, coherence, and consistency, as well as smaller micro issues, for example, in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.


Proofreader: “The View on the Ground”

Ideally, the proofreader works on the copy in its final laid out and typeset format. But sometimes it comes directly from the writer to the proofreader.

No matter what form the copy comes in, the proofreader’s aim is always the same – to carefully check every little detail. This involves a comprehensive check that there are no errors or inconsistencies in every element, page, sentence, or word of the text, including in the formatting and style.

Proofreading is not a once-off process. The proofs go between the proofreader and typesetter many times until both are satisfied the document is free of errors.


So, What Does Proofreading Involve?

We know where the proofreader fits in the editing process. But, what exactly is the proofreader looking for?

These are some of the things the proofreader checks:

  • Typesetting errors – called typos
    For example, transposing letters in a word, such as recieve instead of receive
  • Spelling mistakes or inconsistencies
    For example, incorrectly spelling acommodation, instead of accommodation; or sometimes using program and sometimes using programme
  • Errors in grammar
    For example, incorrect usage of the singular and plural, such as data is instead of data are (data is plural), or mixing up the past and present tense
  • Errors in punctuation
    For example, leaving out a full stop or period to end a sentence, or leaving off the end quotation marks in a quote (for example, “The writing was on the wall)
  • Incorrect word usage
    For example, she herd, rather than she heard; or incorrectly using advise rather than advice, or practise and practice
  • Factual inaccuracies
    For example, reporting that a celebrity has died when in fact the person is alive
  • Incorrect mathematics
    For example, 4 – 5 = 1 instead of -1
  • Errors in the treatment of numbers
    For example, sometimes using a comma in a number and sometimes not (for example, 100,000 versus 100 000)
  • Errors in numbering
    For example, sections or figures being incorrectly numbered
  • Duplications or omissions
    For example, a missing word in a sentence (for example, he returned from dance feeling ill); or the duplication of a word (for example, he returned from the the dance feeling ill)
  • Inconsistencies or errors in formatting or visual appearance
    For example, the size of the typeface changes midway through a word or text (for example, sometimes the text is too large; or too small; or a different font is used)


The work of the proofreader is, and should be, invisible – unless the proofreader misses any errors, which can happen!


What Proofreading is NOT

Proofreading is not rewriting copy. Rather, it is correcting the copy. You can’t rewrite the copy because you don’t like the style of writing, the voice or tone of the writer, or you disagree with the content.

Proofreading is not the same as reading for pleasure or entertainment. When reading a novel you might scan the text or skip a few words or sentences, because you are reading for meaning. When you proofread, you need to train yourself to focus and concentrate on every word, letter, line, sentence, paragraph, and element on the page. If you don’t, you might miss something!


Wordwise – Online Proofreading Course

Does the task of proofreading appeal to you? Are you drawn to the satisfaction of polishing and refining a manuscript?

If the answer is yes, take a look at our online proofreading course to get qualified and become a skilled and professional proofreader.

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