The third aspect of editing recognised by the Standards is proofreading. Traditionally, proofreading is the task completed after layout is done and a ‘proof’ generated. It uncovers any final changes needing attention and also ensures that any prior edits have been made correctly. A proofreader may query the editor or the author about a point in the text, however, at this stage generally the meaning of the material is not altered. The proofreader may be a different person to the editor. In my case, I have moved away from offering copy editing and proofreading services in recent times in favour of structural editing, such is the discipline and knowledge demanded by each aspect of editing.
AN EXAMPLE OF PROOFREADING
A common example of proofreading is the work done in academia. Students, and their supervisors if they have one, are responsible for writing and structuring their work for assessment. So it is important that the editing work done for students does not change the meaning of their writing for their thesis or assignment or whatever it may be. ‘Proofreading changes only’ applies to such jobs. Spelling, grammar and punctuation is reviewed without changing the meaning.
There is an ancient phrase, ‘Through repetition alone perfection is achieved’. I don’t subscribe to the theory that perfection is an elusive goal for mankind and that we should give up and settle for second best. When it comes to the field of writing, I believe that there are many examples of perfection; writing that expresses perfectly the sentiment, reality and purpose of an event, a character or a situation. The classics of literature are just that because they stand the test of time, inspiring generation after generation of readers, becoming etched in our memory.
It is easy to find perfection in nature. To see the sunrise is just an example of the exquisite beauty, power and delicacy of the world in which we live. Our writing can match that brilliance if we strive for it and proofreading covers those valuable final steps to ensure this is achieved. The level of detail zooms in to every character on the page. When it comes to writing, small changes can make a big difference to the overall effect; that’s why proofreading is important.