Counting bananas - proofreading explained

A page spread from a children's counting book. The text reads

What does a proofreader do, and why would a simple children’s counting book need one?

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what a proofreader does, and the role is often confused with the job of editing. Related tasks, but quite different.

Proofreaders work exclusively with final typeset (or formatted) copy. It is the finished written product that you are about to print, or launch to the web, that is the proofreader’s purview.

A proofreader is your last bastion to ensure that the product you are putting out, regardless of whether it is a website, book, flyer, blog post or even signage; is clean, consistent in design, and error free. Proofreaders ensure your captions and pictures match, that your internal page references go to the right places, and that typeset copy is consistent in regards to spacing and heading styles. They look out for awkward word or page breaks, and keep an eye out for that full stop at the end of a sentence that has taken a leap into the unknown .

Proofreaders will also correct errors in grammar and spelling, but that is not their primary task. Their job is to ensure that the typeset or formatted copy is, for the want of a better word – tidy. Give a proofreader formatted copy that has obviously not been edited (either self-edited or by an editor), copy that is riddled with errors, and they may well send it back saying it needs editing first. Proofreaders also won’t check facts, point out plot holes, warn of potential legal liabilities or fix up clunky sentences. No matter how long and unwieldly a sentence is, a sentence that is not only laborious to read, but also seems to go nowhere, nor make any particular succinct point, you know the ones that I mean; those sentences, as long as they are grammatically correct, will fly under the proofreader’s radar.

So, to refer back to the picture illustrating this blog post, an edit of the raw manuscript would not have picked up any error, the mistake was one that could only have been picked up by a proofreader working in the final typeset copy with the graphic in place.

Counting bananas, it’s a tedious job, but someone needs to do it.

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