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        The History of Proofreading

        • calenderJul 01, 2022
        • calender 5 min read

        Having harped on about it for a while, we’re sure (mostly!) that you know all about the importance of proofreading. 

        But where did it all begin? Why is it so important? How much do we really know about the history of proofreading?

        Proofreading? Who’s that?

        Proofreading is quite similar to putting the finishing touches on a cake. Just the way icing covers any cracks or flaws in the cake and takes it to a whole new level, so does proofreading polish and perfect your document.

        The final step of any writing process; proofreading essentially checks for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors which are identified and corrected. You can identify a good proofreading job if the overall readability and style of your document seems to be smooth and improved.

        On a side but very important note, it’s important to understand that proofreading and editing are not the same. Editing involves a lot more effort and skill, since it involves altering and correcting content and syntax. But that’s a story for another blog.

        Digging up the past

        Seriously though, where did all of this start? Who were the first Grammar Nazis?

        The first known forms of proofreading differ vastly from the methods we employ today, and dates as far back as the 15th century! You’d be surprised to know, that proofreading is about as old as printing itself. Following the invention of modern movable printer taking place in Strasburg, Germany, in 1439 A.D. by Johannes Gutenberg, a contract written in 1499 places responsibility for proofreading on the author.

        We told you it was important.

        What else though?

        Proofreading is a lot, lot, lot more intricate and complex than a simple spell or grammar check. It involves formulating style sheets that could be individual to each document being edited, and there are numerous methods that can be employed to do the same.  

        Here’s a list of some of the more commonly used ones for you to get a better understanding:

        • Copy holding or copy reading is generally done with 2 readers for any given document. The first reads the text aloud literally as it appears, at a uniform rate. The second reader follows along while also marking discrepancies between what is being read and the typeset. This method comes in handy in the case of boilerplate text where people generally tend to overlook seemingly small errors.
        • Double reading is slightly similar to copy holding in the sense that the responsibility of the proof is shared by 2 people. It is essentially the first proofreader following the traditional method, and then passing it ahead to the second person for the same.
        • Scanning, as the name suggests is used to proofread without exactly reading it word for word. It has only gained popularity in the last few years with the advancements in technology, and is now common with computerization of typesetting and the popularization of word processing. While established publishers usually prefer their own proprietary typesetting systems, an average customer ends up using commercial programs such as Word.

        What’s it like today?

        The Internet is swarming with free spell checkers and softwares designed to supposedly edit and proofread your document. It’s easier, but it’s also trickier since most of these softwares don’t end up doing more than 10% of the proofreading required.  

        So if you believe that professional proofreaders are not as useful as they once were, you’re very badly mistaken. There are too many types of errors, and no matter how much Word insists that your document is corrected – it most probably isn’t. Punctuation errors, misused words, repetitive words and missing words are just among many common mistakes that go unnoticed on such online platforms.

        Moreover, professional proofreaders have a far lower rate of false positives than software programs, because real time experience and a human understanding of grammar structures will always beat an algorithm.

        A noticeable error in any document, be it in a book, a newspaper, a social media post or even a text can change your entire perspective of it. It creates a sloppy image of the writer in your head, and doesn’t make for a good read experience by itself. So now that you know about the origins and intricacies of proofreading – take the plunge! Make the smart choice, sit back and PaperTrue.

        Remember, practice (along with) proofreading makes perfect.

        Found this article helpful?


        Manish Linkedin

        Manish is a serial entrepreneur, business coach, and the Founder of PaperTrue. His vision is to make impeccable English communication possible for everybody, so they can write effectively and gain the academic and professional success they deserve.

        One comment on “The History of Proofreading

        1. Lana says:

          I worked in graphics in print shops my whole career, beginning in 1975. At that time, we had a proofreading department. At some point, it seems during a recession, we were told we were responsible for proofing our own copy and the department was dissolved. We all knew this wasn’t wise because we had been taught (and experienced ) that the same thing that caused you to make a mistake might cause you to overlook it. When we could, we proofed for each other but it wasn’t always possible. I see SO many obvious mistakes these days, especially online but also in print.

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