How do I know if I need a proofreader? What will a proofreader
do for me?
Before asking anyone to check your text – which I am assuming
is a commercial document of some kind rather than a work of fiction
– it’s a good idea to step back a moment to be sure
that you’re following the best course. So here is a checklist
of things to consider when deciding if, or how, to proceed with
getting your document proofread/edited.
• What can I expect a professional proofreader
to do for my document?
• What can I not expect a proofreader
• Should I consider asking a
colleague to do the proofreading?
• Will the contents of my document
• How important is it for this
document to be error-free?
• Who are the anticipated readers of
• How well do I express myself in the
language I am writing in?
• How should I plan the work?
• My document is so long that I don’t
think there is enough time to get it all written and/or proofread before
my deadline. What can I do?
• I’ve taken everything into account, and I’m
sure this text needs to be proofread. What next?
• What file format should I send my documents
• What other technical issues might
• What will it cost?
• How soon can I expect to get my document
back after I send it off for proofreading?
• What if the proofreader can’t
make sense of my text?
What can I expect a professional proofreader to do
for my document?
On this website I use the term ‘proofreading’ fairly
loosely. Rather than sending back a printout covered with specialized
proofreader’s marks for a typesetter to follow (which published
authors often still have to do), I offer a service which completely
dispenses with this kind of proofreading. Of course, like a traditional
proofreader I aim to identify basic errors of spelling and grammar,
but otherwise my process has little in common with the traditional
I will go through your document, correcting the errors I encounter,
and where necessary I will rewrite sentences in order to ensure
that their meaning is clear, unambiguous and elegantly phrased.
In other words, my input will have the further benefit of bringing
about a general stylistic improvement. At the same time I will make
a separate note of any queries that arise.
After my first pass through the document, I will read through it
again to resolve any errors, inconsistencies or other problems that
were unresolved or unclear the first time around. Anything I cannot
fix at this stage will be referred back to you for clarification.
Wherever the original contains an ambiguous sentence, I will usually
supply the wording for any alternative interpretation in a comment,
letting you decide which meaning fits the context best. This approach
will almost always eliminate the need for an exchange of queries
and responses. It will save us both time, and you will have the
final result sooner. (See What if the
proofreader can’t make sense of my text?)
Before I begin, if the document is in Word format I will switch
on ‘Track changes’ so that you can easily see what amendments
I have made. You can then review and approve them individually if
you wish to do so.
I will also set the correct variant of English for the location
of your target readership if I have this information. This helps
to ensure that the spelling will be in accord with your readers’
In essence, my function combines the tasks of proofreader and content
editor, with my primary focus being on the linguistic content of
the text and its clarity of meaning.
Unless it has previously been agreed otherwise, I will leave the
layout or overall formatting of the document unmodified.
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What can I not expect a proofreader
Even when a proofreader is generally familiar with the subject
matter, it is ultimately up to the client – the author of
the document – to make sure it is properly drafted, and that
its factual content is correct. However, I am frequently able to
spot and correct inconsistencies, omissions and ambiguities. If
there are any that I cannot resolve, I will insert comments describing
the problem(s) in the proofread document. (See What
if the proofreader can’t make sense of my text?)
Unless otherwise agreed beforehand, I will apply only basic formatting
to the text – just whatever is needed to ensure that it reads
without ambiguity, such as italicizing the title of a journal or
making the capitalization of headings consistent.
In my experience, text that has been machine-translated is usually
in too crude a state to be proofread without substantial post-editing
by a human translator to remove obvious mistranslations and other
errors. For me to clean up such a text, the time required (and hence
the cost) will typically be about four times that for amending a
text that a human being has written.
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Should I consider asking a colleague to do the proofreading?
Until fairly recently, many people were lucky enough to have a professionally
trained secretary available to help them produce respectable documents. If you
are among the fortunate few who still have one, this will be a likely route for
you to follow.
Getting a colleague to check your document could be a sensible
choice in some other situations. In the best possible scenario,
your colleague will:
- Be familiar with the subject matter;
- Have a good reputation for the quality of their written output,
and you will have confidence in their abilities with the language
that you are writing your document in;
- Have nothing else more urgent or important to distract them, and
will not mind helping you out;
- Have enough time available to finish the corrections for your
approval before the document deadline;
- Be able to cope with the demands of your document in terms of
its length and the extent of the corrections needed;
- Be easy to confer with and keep track of, usually because you
share the same workplace.
However, you should still consider whether your colleague’s
time would be better spent doing something more productive. For
instance, it doesn't make much sense for a person to be paid $80
an hour for what would cost $40 an hour to outsource to a professional
who would both do the job well and give it their undivided attention.
This is especially so if your colleague's output in the job they
were originally hired to do is actually worth $170 an hour to the
organization that employs them.
In other words, the opportunity cost needs to be considered. In
this example, the true cost of having an otherwise busy colleague
do the proofreading is at least $130 an hour,
or even more if they do the task poorly. In sum, how does the ‘colleague
solution’ fit in with your organization’s overall priorities
for its use of resources?
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Will my document remain confidential?
I will not pass on your documents to any other party, including
other individuals in your organization, unless you specifically
request this in writing (e.g. if you ask me to email them to a graphic
design company). I am happy to sign a confidentiality agreement
If confidentiality is especially important to you, I recommend
that you password- protect your document (making sure to send me
the password in an email separate to the one containing your document),
and/or send it in an encrypted email. If required, I will delete
both versions of the document (your original plus the proofread
version) from my hard drive 30 days after sending it back to you.
If you send me an enquiry containing a document or sample that does not result
in my taking on the job, I will delete your text as soon as it is clear that I
will not be proceeding with it.
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How important is it for this document to be error-free?
Documents that will be read outside your organization are likely to be the
main candidates for professional proofreading, especially if their quality is
likely to affect either an existing business relationship or the image of your
organization with a readership that matters to you. Typical examples might be
marketing and promotional material (including website pages), press releases,
tenders for contracts, and consultancy reports. Material that is intended for
journal or book publication will generally be copy edited by someone employed
by the publisher before it appears in print, but this will only happen after acceptance
of the manuscript. If the submission is too poorly written, it will probably be
rejected altogether by the publisher.
Clearly, the higher the potential penalty (financial or otherwise) for submitting
a mediocre document, the stronger the case is for it to be professionally proofread.
Even internal company documentation can be important enough to
justify being proofread, especially if it will frequently be referred
to by many people (e.g. a company policy or other key document,
including documents that will be posted on an intranet).
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Who are the anticipated readers of my document?
Experienced or senior-ranking readers are liable to be the most
critical of both the content and the presentation of your material.
Non-native speakers or readers of the language in which your documentation
is written will tend to be somewhat less critical, as will many
teenagers and young adults, being more accustomed to communicating
in an informal style. But that is not the same as saying that you
can take these readerships for granted: while an informal style
may be acceptable to your readership, it may still be less effective
in getting your message across.
It is helpful if you are able to let me know where your intended
audience is located: for instance, whether you are addressing readers
in the USA, Asia, a multilateral organization, or an institution
based in Great Britain or another European country. This is because
in addition to some spelling differences, certain words or expressions
that are common in the USA are not well known in Great Britain,
or vice versa (or they may mean something different in each case).
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How well do I express myself in the language I am writing
Be realistic about your writing abilities. Unless you are exceptionally
gifted, if you are not writing in your own language your command
is unlikely to match that of an educated native speaker, even if
you have been living where that language is spoken for a number
Also, the longer and the more complex your document is, the more
effort you will have to put into ensuring that your use of English
is correct. Apart from the likelihood that the result will still
be unexceptional and may therefore still not impress your intended
readership, the effort required will be a distraction from the main
task of thinking about and putting together the content of your
Of course, you should still take advantage of all the tools you
have available to eliminate the most basic errors, such as your
word processing program’s built-in spelling checker, and possibly
its grammar checker.
Here is an example of a well-known public figure grossly
overestimating her ability to be comprehensible.
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How should I plan the work?
Ideally, you should aim to achieve the following:
- Agree the proofreading arrangements at an early stage.
- Make sure all parties involved are aware of the relevant deadlines. This will
include any colleagues or other parties whose input will be needed in drafting
or manipulating your text at a later stage.
- Avoid embedding text in graphic images until after the proofreading
stage is complete, because otherwise it can be difficult or impossible
for a proofreader to edit. Avoiding this problem will speed up
the proofreading process and keep down the cost. Captions should
therefore be submitted as normal text, and inserted in your graphics
only after they have been proofread. (See What other technical issues might be
The following section discusses the first two issues in more detail.
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My document is so long that I don’t think there
is enough time to get it all written and/or proofread before my deadline. What
can I do?
Inevitably, sometimes there is just not enough time for a document
to undergo all the usual production stages in their entirety before
a looming deadline. Clearly, this can create problems with the effective
management of the project in question.
Advance planning is particularly important for avoiding this situation,
and so is efficient communication concerning the issues raised by
the apparent time shortage with everybody who will be involved in
the document production cycle down the line. Otherwise, control
of the situation may be lost, with the risk that a critical deadline
is missed. One or more of several possible resolutions are possible
– many of these are also applicable when formatting or desktop
publishing the document, or posting it on a website:
- Make an advance booking with any specialized units or individuals
whose input will be required in due course (e.g. translators,
proofreaders, printers, DTP departments and graphic design studios).
Secure their agreement concerning any schedule revisions as soon
as realistically possible.
- Send the document for proofreading in individual chapters or
sections instead of submitting the whole document in one go. This
enables the earlier parts of it to be proofread while the later
ones are still being written.
At your end, you may consider one or more of the following:
- Shortening the document, possibly by covering peripheral topics less extensively
or more superficially.
- Splitting the writing of the text among several individuals
who will each take charge of their own section(s). (If this approach
is followed, it is advisable for any technical terms that will
be used to be decided on in advance, with a designated senior
individual having ultimate responsibility for the selection
of the terminology. This helps to ensure consistency.)
- Negotiating an extension of the original submission deadline
with whoever needs your document. For instance, a Friday deadline
might be extended to a Monday, thereby adding two days to your
production cycle (though this can be at extra financial cost if
overtime payments have to be made as a result). Deadlines are
sometimes more flexible than they appear at first, depending on
what underlying factors are driving them.
- Agreeing separate, later deadlines for less important parts
of the document (e.g. appendices, drawings, lists of references
or terms of trade).
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I’ve taken everything into account,
and I’m sure this text needs to be proofread – what
You can either:
• Call me on
• Send me an email at
– preferably with the document itself attached, or else a representative
sample. If the document is not yet ready, please give an estimate
of the total number of words or pages. Also specify the date by which
you require your document(s) returned.
I will then review your document and inform you as quickly as possible about
the approximate cost and the estimated date of completion/return
(which may be earlier than you specify).
Please also see the Pricing
• Or, if you prefer, you can use the web-based enquiry form on the Contact page.
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What file format should I send my documents
Word-processed documents that are exchanged between businesses
tend to be in Microsoft Word format. I normally use Word in the
course of my proofreading work, although I can also work with HTML
and Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files.
If you are not using a standard WP (word processing) program, I
would appreciate your first sending me a sample document saved in
that program’s native format.
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What other technical issues might be
Transmitting large documents electronically
If your document is too large to email, I suggest using a third-party
file transfer service. Alternatively, I can retrieve it using FTP.
Graphics and graphics captions
Please bear in mind that the editing capabilities of word processing
programs for figures like pictures or graph captions, including
Word, are usually cumbersome and laborious to use; often such images
are impossible to edit at all. (Tables, on the other hand, are usually
If you anticipate that you will be embedding figure captions in
the final version of your document, I recommend that you first have
them proofread as normal text, and afterwards incorporate them in
the figures at your end.
Though you might not consider this to be an important issue, it
could become one if it the additional time taken to process such
graphics elements starts squeezing your deadlines. It will also
increase the proofreading cost. Basically, having to redo graphics
captions is slow and expensive.
If your text exists only in the form of hard copy, you will first
need to have it scanned in and converted from image to text using
an optical character recognition (OCR) program so that it can be
sent as a normal WP file. Be prepared for the additional time and
cost of doing this, as the OCR process tends to generate character
translation errors which will need to be corrected either by you
or by your proofreader.
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What will it cost?
Please see the pricing information here.
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How soon can I expect to get my document back after
I send it off for proofreading?
This largely depends on the extent of the changes required. A document
needing a lot of amendments is likely to need a full working day
for the correction of 35-40 regular pages (i.e. about 8-10,000 words),
plus a few additional hours for a final double-check of the document
as a whole.
The most fruitful approach you can take to enabling the final version
of the document to reach the required standard builds flexibility
into the process. This involves planning ahead so that as many deadlines
as possible – including interim internal deadlines –
can be met without the haste, stress and potential for miscalculation
that is liable to arise if each stage is left until the last possible
Advance planning will also make it less likely that a preferred
and trusted proofreader is unavailable when the proofreading stage
arrives. With lengthy texts, it is usually also a good idea to arrange
for sections that you know will not need further changes to be submitted
for proofreading as soon as they are finalized. This gives the proofreader
extra flexibility by enabling him to deal with them immediately,
especially if the time available for finalizing the last part(s)
of your document is short, or if the proofreader has limited time
Of course, nowadays email makes the electronic submission and return
of documents almost instantaneous, barring technical problems.
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What if the proofreader can’t make sense of
I always make notes concerning any apparent problems with the content
or meaning of the document as I go along, and will usually insert
them as separate comments. There can be a variety of such queries,
ranging from missing dates and references, inconsistent percentages
cited in different parts of the document, sentences without verbs
whose basic meaning is unclear, unexplained abbreviations, and repeated
occurrences of similar paragraphs. The appropriate solutions often
become apparent from the overall context of the document; but if
not, my queries will be submitted to you either while work is still
underway (if I need your help to resolve them straightaway) or when
I send you the document with completed corrections. Sometimes I
will be able to provide two or more possible alternative wordings
for you to choose from, thereby avoiding your having to send the
text back to me for final corrections.
In addition to making use of obvious resources such as dictionaries,
I also use the information that is readily available on the World
Wide Web to resolve independently as many queries as possible (such
as those involving unfamiliar acronyms or terminology) instead of
passing them back to my clients to resolve for me. This is generally
more efficient all round and saves everybody’s time.
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