Academics at the final stage of a writing project—whether an academic book, journal article, or web publication—may wonder if they need a proofreader.
In this post, I’ll explain what proofreading is and why you shouldn’t skip this crucial step in the publication process. I’ll also give some reasons why hiring a professional proofreader will make your finished product that much better!
What Is Proofreading?
A proofreader is the last editor who sees your writing before publication. They examine the finished product—page proofs for an academic book or journal article or the final layout of a dissertation or online publication—and identify any errors that were missed earlier in the process.
Proofreaders also look for inconsistencies in print design, book formatting, and page layout that might confuse your readers. These errors can only be found once the final layout of a publication is finalized. For instance, irregularities in page margins and depth, line breaks, page numbers, headings, titles, footnotes, endnotes, and the table of contents can only be identified after each page of the book or article is designed and typeset.
Proofreading is your last chance to catch typos before publication, and it’s the only chance to look at your entire finished publication exactly as a reader will see it.
Why Is Proofreading Important?
If you’ve never worked with a copyeditor to polish your writing, you may wonder what the difference between copyediting and proofreading is and why you need to bother with proofreading at all. But skipping this key stage in the editing process can still be detrimental to your finished book or article.
Small typos add up. Even simple errors distract readers and can even unsettle their sense of your credibility, so it’s important to catch as many of them as possible before publication. Design issues can also prevent deep engagement with your writing: just think of the last time you visited a web page whose layout gave you a headache or tried to read a student essay that was formatted with wide margins and a large, unfamiliar font. Proofreading is the final opportunity to spot and fix anything that just doesn’t look right.
Inconsistencies also have consequences for scholarship. For instance, imagine that one of the chapter titles listed in your book’s table of contents doesn’t match the title given at the beginning of the chapter. Readers trying to cite this chapter in their own scholarly work will be at a loss for which title to use: they might cite your work inconsistently or even give up on referring to it altogether. A proofreader’s job is to make sure this sort of irregularity is caught and corrected so that your writing reaches its intended audience.
Can I Proofread My Own Writing?
You can learn to proofread your own writing—and there are resources to help—but there are good reasons to consider getting feedback from a professional:
- Proofreading occurs at the point in the editing cycle when you are exhausted.
Academic books, dissertations, and journal articles are multi-year projects, and getting to the finish line can leave you feeling exhausted. The last thing most writers want to do at the end of this process is comb through their entire manuscript again!
Likewise, by the time you receive final proofs for a writing project, you will have probably been working and reworking the language in it for so long that you could recite sections of it by heart. Material in your book might have taken shape as a graduate seminar paper, been revised into a conference paper, and reworked from there into an article.
In this context, it is nearly impossible to approach your writing with the freshness of mind necessary to catch small errors. A professional proofreader will not only step in at the point when you most need a break, they’ll do so with a fresh set of eyes.
- Proofreading depends on specialized knowledge of style and print conventions.
Proofreading requires more than an understanding of spelling and grammar; it’s a skill that draws on its own body of specialized knowledge. Professional proofreaders are experts in various style manuals and guides, like Chicago Style, and they will be prepared to work with the style sheet a copyeditor has prepared for your manuscript. They also have an eye for design and know when something in the page layout just doesn’t look right.
Whether it’s a missing accent, a stray comma in a source citation, a misaligned heading, or awkward end-of-line hyphenation that might cause a reader to stumble, experienced proofreaders know just what to look for in final page proofs.
- Proofreading is fussy work that most people don’t like doing.
Proofreading is finicky, time-consuming work. Did you know that a good proofreader will read your book or article multiple times, even backward? If this doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy doing, you are far from alone.
But professional proofreaders find genuine satisfaction in this kind of reading: the knowledge that our work serves scholarly precision and readability makes it a pleasure. When you work with the proofreading team at Flatpage, you’ll benefit from proofreaders who not only know how to do this fussy work well, but actually like it!
About the author
Tim Lundy is an editor, proofreader, and teacher. He helps academics and artists put the final polish on their work as a proofreader at Flatpage.