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        What Is Proofreading? A Comprehensive Guide

        • calenderFeb 17, 2023
        • calender 7 min read

        Whether you’re writing a book, a college assignment, or a work-related email, proofreading a document is the crucial last step before you finalize it. It’s an important final check for anybody who engages in the writing process, be it a writer, a student, or a job applicant. Proofing a document ensures that your writing is not only error-free but also high-quality. 

        So, what is proofreading? Why does it matter? In this article, we’ll answer both of these questions and a few more! We’ll take you through the proofreading process, explain how it’s different from other types of editing, and offer a few examples of proofreading to ease the process.

        Let’s start with the basics: What does proofreading mean? 

        What is proofreading?

        Proofreading a document refers to the process of reviewing a finished document to mark any errors that obstruct the reading experience.

        When we say “a finished document,” we mean an essay that is ready for submission, a resume that is ready to be sent, or a book that is ready to be published. Initially, a proofreader would work on the printed copy of a document—called a “proof”—and mark any errors in language or layout.

        Obviously, book proofreading is wildly different from proofing an essay. An essay proofreader considers formatting guidelines, citation style, and factual accuracy. Proofreading a book has considerations of genre, story, style, mood, and consistency. Proofreading a resume will have yet other concerns.

        The common denominator between all these is that proofreading a document is always the final step in its editing process. Today, online proofreading is the final check that removes all errors from your document before it reaches the reader.

        The two most important things a proofreader looks for when proofreading your document are mechanical consistency and correctness.

        What does mechanical consistency mean?

        Well, there are basic rules that apply to the written form of any given language. Especially in formal documents like an essay or a job application, it becomes extremely important to observe these rules. Since they’re designed to prioritize clarity in writing, these rules benefit you by making your writing easy to follow.

        Even for an informal, creative piece of writing like a short story or a poem, there are certain black-and-white rules that must be followed. Here’s a fun example of the difference that a comma can make:

        1. Most of the time, travelers worry about their luggage.

        2. Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage.

        Unless you believe in time travel, you’ll notice what’s off about the second sentence.

        If you ignore things like the right order of words, accurate punctuation, and standardized spelling, your writing becomes illegible. It’s this aspect of writing that proofreading seeks to correct. Proofreading a document does not change or rearrange its content, it merely ensures that the writing is error-free and easy to read.

        So, a proofreader highlights errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and consistency in a text that has already been typeset.

        Difference between editing and proofreading

        Editing is a larger process in which proofreading a document features as the final step. Once different types of editing are performed on a document, it is proofread to remove all remaining errors and maximize its readability.

        In the case of larger documents like a dissertation, a thesis, or a book, the editing process is longer. There are four distinct editing processes that focus on improving different aspects of your text:

        1. Developmental editing
        2. Copy editing
        3. Line editing
        4. Proofreading

        Let’s go through these steps briefly and consider some examples of proofreading along the way.

        1. Developmental or substantive editing focuses on the big picture. It improves broader aspects like overall structure, organization, and quality of the written content.
        2. Copy editing looks at the document a little more closely. It scans your paragraphs for grammar mistakes, internal consistency, and stylistic uniformity. A copy editor improves the readability of your writing.
        3. Line editing is a line-by-line perusal of your writing, with a focus on tone and emotion in your writing. It’s quite close to copy editing, so most editors perform the two tasks together.
        4. Proofreading is performed after all other changes are made to the document. It removes all spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors, ensuring that your document is good to go.

        If you’d like to read more about the different steps involved in editing, visit this article.

        Having gone through these steps, it’s possible to wonder whether copy editing and proofreading are similar. After all, both of them focus on the mechanical aspects of your language use, right? So why are they different steps in the editing process?

        Proofreading vs. copy editing

        Different steps in editing modify the content and mechanical aspects of your writing. Copy editing, for example, suggests improvements in your word usage or sentence structure.

        Proofreading does not do this. It suggests no changes to the content or language of your document and only points out incidental errors in your text.

        There are three major differences between copy editing and proofreading.

        Copy editing Proofreading
        Examines paragraphs and sentences for clarity, consistency, grammar, and style. Examines the entire document for spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors.
        Suggests improvements to the writer and influences the final product to a significant degree. Only removes incidental mistakes from the pre-edited text. It is the final check before the document is deemed ready to submit/publish.
        The scope varies with each specific case, its context, and the client’s needs. The scope is consistent no matter the document.

        We have seen what proofreading is and how it differs from other steps in book editing. Now, let’s take a look at why proofreading a document is so important.

        Why should you proofread your document?

        Online proofreading ensures that your document comes across as professional. When you dedicate the time and effort to get your text proofread by an expert, it shows that you take your topic and your writing seriously.

        No matter how good your content is, errors in writing influence how people read your document.

        Here’s an example that will make this very clear: Imagine you’re at a serene continental restaurant. There’s this pasta dish your friend has spoken of highly, and you’re trying to find it on the menu. And then you see it—the glaring typo—and all your friend’s praise suddenly fades from your head.

        “Roasted Bell Peppre Arrabiata,” it says on the menu.

        Such a silly typo from a highly recommended restaurant! You begin to doubt not only the quality of the restaurant but also your friend’s taste level!

        The typing mistake totally distracts you from everything else on the menu. Even after you’ve placed your order, you can’t help thinking about the minute error.

        When this happens with an academic essay, a book, or a business document, these errors can be harmful. They divert your reader’s attention from the topic at hand to some silly punctuation errors you could’ve easily avoided. Basically, it becomes difficult to take your document seriously.

        What does a proofreader do?

        A professional proofreader not only performs a grammar and spelling check but also goes beyond this to check your consistency and readability. It’s their job to point out anything that obstructs a good reading experience.

        The proofreader finds and highlights the following errors in a document:

        1. Grammar mistakes: Problems with subject-verb agreement, consistency in tense, parallelisms, and so on.
        2. Spelling mistakes: Checking for British or American variations of spellings. For example: “favourite/favorite”
        3. Adherence to punctuation guidelines: Proper use of hyphens, dashes, the Oxford comma, etc.
        4. Adherence to style guidelines: Style of references list, in-text citations, footnotes, and annotations.
        5. Proper indexing: Ensuring that entries in your index match your topics and their respective page numbers.
        6. Perfect use of images: Checking image clarity, image alignment with text, and matching captions for all images.
        7. Functionality: Are the links functional? Does the digital copy read well? Is the font too big or too small?
        8. Layout: Ensuring that the layout is consistent throughout the book.

        Proofreaders usually maintain style sheets for each of their clients. These sheets inform them of the language style that’s desirable in the document.

        Academic papers necessarily adhere to a particular citation style. However, style sheets are also used in refining business reports, legal papers, or any document that has specific formatting guidelines.

        What is a proofing mark?

        Proofing marks, or proofreader’s marks, are the symbols used by proofreaders to mark errors in a printed copy.

        As you know, the proofreader works with the proof, which is a ready-to-publish copy of any given document. Before digital documents were the norm, writers would print this proof and send it to the proofreader.

        As the proofreader worked on this copy, they left symbols as instructions to the writer and typesetter. The writer could then read these symbols and decide how to act on the suggested corrections.

        While proofreading online, it’s easy to track changes on a document. So, proofreading symbols have become redundant in the modern day. All you have to do is upload your document, and when you get it back, you’ll find all the edits and corrections laid out on the digital page!

        Do you need to hire a proofreader?

        It makes sense to try and proofread smaller documents like reports and minor assignments by yourself. But in the case of a larger document like an annual financial report, a thesis, or a book, you need to hire a professional.

        It’s easy to assume that anyone fluent in English would be able to spot grammar mistakes and typing errors. Why do you need to pay someone to do this? You could just have a couple of your friends go through the piece, right?


        Aside from language corrections, proofreaders are trained to boost the readability of your document. They step into the reader’s shoes to ensure that your writing is clear and easy to understand. Proofreaders smooth out everything from layout oddities to structural problems in your document.

        Basically, a proofreader prepares your document for the reader’s eyes.

        But do you have the budget for this? Obviously, every type of document benefits from professional proofreading. Whether you’re a student, a writer, or a business executive, proper language and stylistic accuracy help you come across as serious and professional.

        Where can you find a proofreader?

        Based on the type of document you need to have proofread, the answer is likely to vary. But we’ve identified three places where you can find proofreading help:

        1. Colleagues or peers

        People who work in the same field as you will find it easier to fact-check your writing. Friends and colleagues are the first options in cases where the document is formal but not extremely important.

        2. Freelance proofreaders

        You can find freelancers on sites like Fiverr or Upwork. It can be a task to find the right person to work with, but on the bright side, there is a large number of people to pick from!

        3. Proofreading services

        Editing services like PaperTrue hire editors and proofreaders with various backgrounds and specializations. Plus, they’re answerable to you in case the job isn’t done to your satisfaction.

        While the scope of different types of proofreading such as college essay proofreading and book proofreading may differ, proofreading remains a crucial last step for all document editing. Make sure to hire talented proofreaders if you want to avoid a “Roasted Bell Peppre Arrabiata” fate!

        Found this article helpful?


        Prasanna Linkedin

        Prasanna is on a little break from academia and spends his time compiling fiction writing tips. He enjoys poetry, mythology, and drawing lotuses on any surface he can find.

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