We’ve all felt it; that cringe in sympathy for a coworker who sent out a very important email to the whole team, including the big boss, and there it is, a typo. Or we’ve had to delete a tweet because we used their instead of there or worse, autocorrect used a very inappropriate word and a hundred people already viewed it.
Besides installing ProWritingAid to cover everything you write (which is a good idea, BTW), what else can we do to make sure we put our best writing forward? After all, artificial intelligence can only go so far. JoEllen Nordstrom, founder of FirstEditing.com, offers this sage advice based on years of experience. “So, how do you know when you need professional proofreading help? You know you do because you’re human! EVERYONE needs help from an outside source to look over his or her writing. It’s just a simple fact.”
Advice from both an editor and someone who’s sent one of those emails with a missing word that another set of eyes would have caught (Memo to Staff: Introduction of New Management Team caused quite a stir when I forgot to note that it was only building management, not a hostile corporate takeover…) is: Hire someone to proofread your work.
What is proofreading?
According to The Chicago Manual of Style’s grammar rule 2.100, “Proofreading is the process of reading a text and scrutinizing all of its components to find errors and mark them for correction. Each major stage of a manuscript intended for publication—especially the final version the author submits to the publisher and, later, the copyedited version of the same—is generally reviewed in this way.” This tells us that proofreading isn’t just a one-time thing. Proofreading is needed through all stages of writing.
What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?
Again referring to The Chicago Manual of Style (2.48), there is a distinct difference between editing and proofreading.
Manuscript editing, also called copyediting or line editing, requires attention to every word and mark of punctuation in a manuscript, a thorough knowledge of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions. It is undertaken by the publisher—either in-house or through the services of a freelance editor—when a manuscript has been accepted for publication. (Self-publishing authors, too, can benefit from the services of a professional editor.) It may include both mechanical editing (see 2.49) and substantive editing (see 2.50). It is distinct from developmental editing (not discussed in this manual), which more directly shapes the content of a work, the way material should be presented, the need for more or less documentation and how it should be handled, and so on.
Role of a professional proofreader
In an online blog on the FirstEditing.com website, Founder JoEllen Nordstrom says, “It’s the writer’s job to tell the story, and it’s the editor’s job to make sure the story is told clearly.” If a writer spends energy proofreading as they’re writing, it could interrupt the creative process. Write on, and let the professional proofreader take care of the nitty-gritty.
Humans vs. Machines
As mentioned earlier, artificial intelligence in the form of spell-check and grammar checkers is an invaluable tool when writing. From simple MS Word’s spell-check to ProWritingAid’s grammar check to Fictionary.co’s Story Coach, artificial intelligence has made leaps and bounds toward helping writers put their best work forward. However…there’s still a need for the human eye to proofread your work before sending it out to the world. Kristina Stanley, founder of Fictionary.co, likes to use the example of her company’s artificial intelligence that will automatically build a client list for you after you import your manuscript into their software. The AI will pick up Virginia Slims as a character name, however, it’s actually a brand of cigarette. Only a human can catch that. (And if for some reason someone has named their child Virginia Slims, well, the human is there to verify that.)
Second pair of eyes
JoEllen Nordstrom of FirstEditing urges writers to “seek the help of a trained professional. The resources available to you through online resources and software programs are great. However, nothing is equal to a second set of eyes going through your document. And what better set of eyes than those of a trained professional editor?” Additionally, this two-minute read from ProofreadMyEssay.co.uk advises, “Having someone else proofread your work can help you identify any parts of your writing that require clarification. You may have a great argument, but this doesn’t count for much unless you can communicate it clearly!”
Don’t pass your work off to just anyone for proofreading. Many editors have had to do a rush proofreading job on a novel with a dedication like: To my loving spouse, who spent hours pouring [sic] over this manuscript to keep me on the straight and narrow. But beta readers—or worse, online reviewers—found so many typos, the author had to pull the book down and quickly send it to a professional for final proofreading—unbeknownst to their loving spouse. Avoid this costly and time-consuming debacle and send your manuscript to a professional proofreader first.
This might seem counterintuitive. How can spending money paying a professional proofreader save money? Well, if you pay the untrained proofreader, then have to pay a professional proofreader to do the job right, you’ve just wasted money on the first proofread, and also lost time that could have been used to sell your properly proofread book online. So now you’ve got a reputation for poor grammar and you’ve missed out on some potential sales while your book is with the pro. (Another way to save money is to learn to proofread your own work before sending to the professional proofreader. You may catch quite a lot of errors—but not all of them.)
In conclusion, students often trade essays with other students for proofreading before submitting to their teachers. In the corporate world we can, should, and often do pass our work to another admin for a once-over before distribution. This includes everything from the aforementioned 240-character tweet to a full annual report to shareholders. For fiction and nonfiction writers, it’s essential to have someone look over your work before publishing. The last thing you want is a slew of bad online reviews; not because of your book’s content, but because the grammar was so atrocious the reader actually put down the book. Hire a professional proofreader.