Long-time subscribers to this blog may have noticed that a little cosmetic tweaking has been taking place on this website over the last week or so. Namely, the gradual shift from ‘proof reader’ to ‘proofreader’. Before I explain why I’ve been making this change, let me first answer what is something of a frequently asked question:
Which is right, ‘proof reader’, ‘proof-reader’ or ‘proofreader’?
Well, unfortunately, the answer is all three. The hyphenated version is rarely used, however; though, strictly speaking, it isn’t wrong, simply uncommon. The single- and two-word versions are both correct but it would appear that ‘proofreader’ is in the ascendancy and ‘proof reader’ is slowly sliding out of favour.
My own preference is for ‘proof reader’. There’s no particular reason for that, I just like it. Two distinct words. Proof. Reader. I don't know, it just seems so much more satisfying.
So, why, if I prefer ‘proof reader’, have I been methodically eradicating all trace of that form and replacing it with ‘proofreader’?
The answer is simple: Google.
Google prefers ‘proofreader’ and as I want my website to perform well in Google searches, I’ve been forced to go with the flow. So, from now on, it’ll be ‘proofreader’ and not ‘proof reader’.
But I don’t have to like it.
I’ve received quite a few emails from people looking for clarity with regard to the above.
Hopefully, there is enough information on this website to give you an insight into what a proofreader does. But what does a copy editor do?
The reason there is often so much confusion about the responsibilities of proofreaders and copy editors is that there is a certain amount of overlap.
Often, particularly in a smaller publishing house, the copy editor will also perform the tasks normally associated with a proofreader, i.e. seeking out and rectifying inaccuracies (spelling, grammar, punctuation, arithmetical gaffes and so forth).
One simple way of creating clear blue water between the two roles is to recognise that proofreaders focus on accuracy, whereas copy editors concentrate their efforts on quality. Now, obviously, a lack of accuracy in a piece of writing will almost certainly reflect badly on the overall quality of the work, but a copy editor deals almost exclusively in terms of quality.
A copy editor will make sure a piece of writing flows, that it ‘reads well’.
A copy editor will remove clichés and redundancies.
A copy editor is likely to be far more engaged with the subject matter and may question the value of a particular sentence, paragraph, page or chapter.
Where a proofreader leaves their opinion on the doorstep and deals in hard facts, in issues of literal right and wrong, a copy editor is far more likely to make subjective value judgments and enter into debate with an author.
This latter quality, this willingness to engage and opine, whilst making for a good copy editor, explains why effective copy editors frequently make for very poor proofreaders, particularly in a fast-turnaround environment.
So, for proofreader, think ‘accuracy’. For copy editor, think ‘quality’.
I appreciate this is hardly a detailed job spec for each of these functions, but roles and responsibilities are likely to change from one publishing or media environment to the next. I think you’ll be much better armed with the general distinction outlined above than something too detailed and, consequently, inflexible.
Whether you’re looking for a career as a proofreader or a copy editor, you’ve definitely come to the right place.
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Rachel Gee, Trainee Proofreader.
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Teresa Richardson, Proofreader.
“As someone who has effectively been proofreading for thirty years, I found Mike’s No-Nonsense Proofreading Course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of this discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it as the ideal starting point, and much more besides.”
Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
My name's Mike Sellars and I'm an experienced proofreader and the author of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. Click here to find out more about me.
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“As someone who has been proofreading for 30 years, I found Mike’s course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of the discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.” Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
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