Proofreading simply means to 'read and mark errors'.
The goal of a proofreader is to produce error-free copy, and a good proofreader ensures accuracy in all of the following areas:
Mark Twain once said:
"The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."
Mark Twain's well-known observation appears at the top of the "Language/Writing" page of a university's continuing education website - just above a blurb for "Mistake-Free Grammar & Proofreading." Except that Twain's line is misquoted, and the word lightning
is twice misspelled as lightening.
Twain himself had little patience for such errors. "In the first place God made idiots," he once wrote. "This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers."
Yet as an old newspaper reporter, Twain knew full well how hard it is to proofread effectively. As he said in a letter to Walter Bessant in February 1898:
You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don't know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes, but not often enough, the printer's proof reader saves you, & offends you with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage and find that the insulter is right - it doesn't say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn't light the jets.
Proofreading sometimes also involves spending time researching in order to double check facts:
There are in fact, a surprising number of errors in cookbooks out there, that don't necessarily get picked up until someone tries making the recipe. Felicity Cloake, a food writer noted the following errors in a blog she wrote for 'The Guardian'.
It's a memory which occasionally wakes me up with a start in the middle of the night, bathed in a light sheen of abject terror. One crisp Monday in mid-December, I received a cheery tweet from a fellow food writer which filled me with a very unreasonable chill. "Loved your Christmas recipes in G2 today!" she trilled. "Can't wait to try your sugar-free mincemeat, as am trying to cut down my intake. Does it really work?"
Hands trembling, stomach in revolt, I ripped open the paper. Sure enough, my "perfect" mincemeat was a Puritan mix of grated apple and dried fruit, with nary so much as a grain of sugar as a nod to festive cheer.
Oh yes, Felicity had inadvertedly left out the 200g muscovado sugar when she uploaded the recipe online! Easy to rectify online of course, however embarrassing for Felicity who had to apologise to her readers who may have been disappointed by this spuriously healthy take on a Christmas classic.
However, this error was not as bad as Antony Worrall Thompson's claim ( a well-known UK TV chef personality) to a healthy-living magazine, back in 2008, that foraged henbane was "great in salads" - that's the same henbane, that the notorious Dr Crippen is thought to have used to kill his wife. Had Worrall Thompson been a crossword fan, the name "bane", an old-fashioned name for poison, might have been some clue that this plant, which can cause hallucinations, drowsiness, and in larger amounts, loss of consciousness, seizures, and death, wasn't the one he was thinking of. He had mixed up the noxious weed with the distinctly more edible fat hen, and had to admit the mistake was "embarrassing".
Like Felicity's faux pas, however, Worrall Thompson's mistake was easily corrected. Unfortunately though, when published books are found to have an error, things aren't so quickly smoothed over. Random House was forced to take one cookery title off the market after six months when it was discovered that the custard recipe, which called for simmering a tin of condensed milk in a slow cooker for 4 hours, caused the tin to blow up halfway through cooking, destroying the slow cooker and anything in its path, as well as any prospect of pudding!
One could blame these errors on shrinking budgets, which mean the editors have less money to spend testing and checking recipes, but it is not a new problem.
Of course, complaints that certain recipes tried by home cooks don't work, can in fact be caused by home cooks not following the recipe that has been written, and by those who substitute with items that simply don't work in a particular recipe, and then blame the publisher! One publisher was compelled to issue a sheet of baking tips (pdf) along with a plea: "Sounds simple, but please do follow the recipes exactly as written!"
A copyeditor makes suggestions about:
Copyeditors often get muddled up with copywriters:
Writes advertising and marketing copy eg ads, business plans, catalogues etc
They also write such things as public relations copy (corporate communications), technical materials, speeches, and ghostwriting. Ghostwriting means writing something that someone else will put their name on.
Proofreading and editing can be really interesting, and I enjoy the variety of work that crops up, and particularly enjoy proofreading and editing websites, as they are all different.
It may not be the most lucrative of careers, but can be very satisfying. Proofreaders and Editors are here to help, and try and ensure accuracy in as much written work as possible, both online and offline.
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