Proofreading is the art of reading texts in order to identify and correct spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and format errors. Proofreading is important as it ensures texts are delivered in optimum format. Proofreaders are employed by book publishing firms, magazine publishers and corporate firms when producing promotional materials. Failure to proofread texts before publication could result in an amateurish, unprofessional mistake-ridden production, which could adversely effect customer base. The meaning of texts may also be clouded and ambiguous if they have not been proofread.
Proofreading is often incorrectly conflated with the act of editing. However, the two practices fulfil different functions at different stages of the writing process. Editing is the primary stage and is conducted as soon as the first draft of a text has been completed. The purpose of editing is to ensure ideas are expressed comprehensively and logically and that the text reads as a fluent, meaningful piece. Proofreading comes after the editing stage and involves combing through the text to look for minor discrepancies such as punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors. Both roles are distinct and require different skills which is why publishing houses tend to employ different people to fulfil each role.
Proofreading requires a high level of concentration and the ability to disconnect from the content of the text and concentrate instead on the accuracy of the words and grammatical format. Errors can be difficult to identify as the human brain commonly filters out errors when they do not occlude the meaning of a text. A sentence with a minor spelling error or with a comma where a full stop should be can still read perfectly to the eye and make sense in the brain, but a proofreader must be vigilant and pick up on such errors.
Spelling and grammar checks
Most computers come with rudimentary word processing features which allows users to create text documents and subject them to spelling and grammar checks. In theory, this should all but eradicate the need for proofreaders. However, the spell check system is not foolproof as it cannot spot words that are spelt correctly but used in the wrong context. For instance, using the word “there” instead of “their” will not show up on a spell check. The grammar check systems employed by such software are also imperfect and cannot deal with the complexities of language and the myriad of ways in which ideas can be expressed through language.
Work from printed paper rather than from a computer screen if possible. According to the University of Wisconsin website, this can make it easier to identify errors. Use a ruler to segregate each line out as you read so your brain does not get distracted by any text in your peripheral vision. Reading text out loud can also help identify stylistic or structural errors such as sentences that run on for too long. Common mistakes you should look for whilst proofreading include mixing past and present tenses, misplacement of apostrophes, and confusing words which have a similar spelling but slightly different meaning, such as “affect” and “effect.”
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