We recently finished a big handbook proofreading project, and it’s pointing up that the scope of proofreading goes way beyond simple grammar and spelling errors. We also check for consistency on a lot of other things besides these two.
In this project, with almost two dozen chapters written by different authors, the issue of keeping up with consistent style guidance from the use of acronyms to measurement expressions loomed large.
Here are some elements of a text that the proofreader can be called upon to check to ensure consistency across an entire document:
- Compositor mistakes like missing running heads, terms suddenly appearing in a different font or size
- Heading level errors where one author uses Heading 3 where the template for the content calls for Heading 2
- Heading rows in tables misaligned between chapter 10 and chapter 12
- Footnote numbers not handled consistently from one chapter to the next
- Case study template violated where one chapter only has one column, but the others have two with a standard set of questions in the left column
- References handled consistently for capitalization, order of names, and punctuation; easy for authors to forget and just paste in a new reference using a different style
- Consistent verbiage for information on intro and access date website URLs in references
- Forgetting to give spelled out version of a term with the acronym on first mention
- Formatting for source references at the bottoms of figures and tables (in our project’s case, the formatting was different in these two cases)
- Capitalization of units of measure
- Verifying accuracy of URLs in references (usually an extra task that adds cost to the job)
As you can see, there are a lot of things to check. We usually go through the text several times to look at individual issues (bigger ones to smaller ones), and if something can be checked by searching on a specific term or set of terms, we will take care of those prior to actually reading through the text. We have a good eyes, but trying to see all of these things at once is almost impossible in one go. And in this case, we had to come up with a consistent style list and items to look for since two PI partners worked on different chapters (!!).
We actually enjoy this work tremendously, especially as a break from the very different mental of book indexing. It doesn’t involve subject analysis, so we can just focus on more mechanical aspects of a text. Not that proofreading is easier, necessarily, just that it uses a slightly different part of our brains.