The Death of Proofreading

There you are, editing somebody’s book in Microsoft Word.

If you were working 20 years ago, you’d be editing on paper. After you finished, a typesetter would retype the entire manuscript (including your changes) by hand and run out typeset galleys. Then you’d assign a proofreader to check the typesetter’s work against your edited manuscript. But today, after being edited in Microsoft Word, the manuscript will *not* be retyped. In fact, it will *become* the typeset galleys. So what’s the point of proofreading the galleys against the edited manuscript?

Using an electronically edited manuscript for typesetting is a good thing. It completely prevents all of the errors that would be introduced if a typesetter retyped it. But it also eliminates the opportunity to have someone comb through the text of a book *in a different way* from what the editor has done. Comparing galley proofs and manuscript point by point forces proofreaders to slow down, so they catch errors that editors overlook in a straight read-through.

If you’ve figured out the solution to this dilemma, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, what can you do as you edit electronically to prevent some of the errors a proofreader might catch in a copy-to-copy read-through?

1. Use your spell checker. As I’ve pointed out before, a spell checker won’t catch correctly spelled words that are misused. It *will,* however, catch the most elusive of typos, and you should use it to full advantage for this purpose.

2. Use Microsoft Word’s find-and-replace feature to standardize every inconsistent spelling, capitalization, and punctuation mark. You may want to use some of our programs (such as FileCleaner and MegaReplacer) to help automate this task. Please *don’t* do it by scrolling through the file over and over again, hoping you’ll somehow spot everything.

3. Mark typesetting spec levels with styles (such as Heading 1, Normal, and so on) to minimize the amount of formatting typesetters have to do by hand.

Does all of this electronic editing mean the death of proofreading?

Well, not quite.

The point of proofreading is to see if an error has occurred *at any point an error can be introduced* in the publishing process. So, in the old days, a proofreader basically checked every typeset character against the edited manuscript, because every time the typesetter’s finger hit a key, there was a possibility for error.

Similarly, a proofreader checked every correction the typesetter made at galley stage, because for every correction there was also the possibility that the typesetter would introduce a new error.

In your electronic production process, you need to identify the places errors can be introduced. Then have a proofreader check those places. For example:

1. Try editing in Word with revision marks (tracking) turned on. Then have a proofreader double-check your revisions to make sure *you* haven’t introduced errors during your editing. You’ll be surprised at how many things turn up.

2. Have a proofreader check corrections made by authors or reviewers (unless, as editor, you do this yourself).

3. After typesetting, have a proofreader check formatting, widows, orphans, and breaks–all of the things that typesetters still impose on a manuscript even though they no longer retype it. In fact, you should have a proofreader check the final output for every medium in which a document will be published: print, HTML, Microsoft Reader, Adobe Acrobat, and so on. Publishing in different formats is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.

4. Have a proofreader read slowly through the document looking for things you may have missed while editing. This isn’t proofreading in the strict sense of the word, but I’m always glad to have a second pair of eyes review my work. Maybe you are too.

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