Usually, the clue is in the title. Proofreaders, it must therefore be assumed, read proofs. And that’s true enough, they do. However, if you think that means the ability to read is the key component of an effective proofreader’s professional make-up, then I’m afraid you’re very much mistaken.
If anything, the ability to read swiftly and fluently is a major drawback when proofreading. As your eyes skip across the page, bouncing from word to word like that funny little karaoke ball, following the writer’s carefully crafted rhythms and beats, you will miss all kinds of errors.
To become an effective proofreader you have to ‘unlearn to read’.
Now, that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds because your brain is an extremely effective proofreader and editor in its own right. Not only does it spot errors, it also corrects them, immediately and without you even realising it.
Don’t believe me? Try reading the following.
Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind! Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Can you see now that porofaerdnig inst all aoubt rdaenig?
At least 90% of what you’ve just read is gibberish, yet your brain was able to take it apart and put it back together again in the right order.
And your brain does this all the time. It works with what it’s got and, whenever it can, it forces things to fit in with how it thinks things ought to be.
As a proofreader, this is a positive liability. Which is why you need a robust and effective proofreading methodology. It isn’t enough just to slow things down and read things backwards. You need to head your brain off at the pass and stop it from being so darned helpful all the time. Chapter 5 of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course provides you with just such a methodology and a whole host of little tricks and techniques to keep that organic supercomputer of yours in its place.
Good lcuk wtih all yuor poorfaedrnig ednaevuros!
Apologies for the interruption to our Proofreading 101 series but I thought this was a little too important to postpone.
In The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course, there is a chapter entitled From Effective Proofreader to Indispensable Proofreader (It’s Really Not That Far). Okay, so it isn’t the pithiest of chapter headings but it does the job.
Anyway, in that particular chapter, you’ll find all kinds of tips that will help you demonstrate to your employer or client that you aren’t just a human grammar- and spell-checker, that you are able to bring to your work a degree of perceptiveness, common sense and rigor that they simply cannot expect from your run-of-the-mill proofreader.
I’m currently in the process of creating the third edition of the eBook and have added some information to the aforementioned chapter that I think is too important to keep from you until publication.
So, here it is.
When proofreading, you will often come across contact information of one sort or another: telephone numbers, email addresses, URLs. The quotidian (what a beautiful word for ‘ordinary’) proofreader will check these for literal errors and obvious deviations from common sense. The indispensable proofreader will call-up the numbers, test out the email addresses to make sure they don’t generate delivery errors and cut and paste URLs into their browser to make sure they actually lead somewhere and not to a 404 or ‘Not Found’ message.
It’s little things like this that will elevate you above the competition. So, while your quotidian peers are quibbling over split infinitives, dangling modifiers and hyphenation usage, you will actually be providing your employer or customer with an outstanding 360-degree service.
Proofreading 101 will resume shortly.
As you’ll know if you’ve read The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course or popped into the ‘About the Author’ page on this site, as well as actively working as a proof reader, I also spent two years working as an Operations Manager for the UK’s largest home shopping business, Shop Direct. During this time, I was responsible for overseeing the production of thousands of pages each year, from design, through repro, and finally on to print (or upload, in the case of the numerous websites). Crucial to this process were the proof readers, ensuring pages were presented to the public free from error.
Now, producing pages free from error was one goal (and, it goes without saying, an important one). Another (arguably more important) goal was getting the pages to press on time. Launch dates are crucial to any business with a vast amount of tightly coordinated marketing activity planned to orbit around such launches. As for ‘to press’ dates, these are, quite simply, set in stone. To miss them is to invite very hefty fines. I’ve known fines of as much as £20,000. Per day.
So, as an Operations Manager, I was balancing the need for quality with the need to hit all scheduled milestone dates on time.
This called for compromise.
As a proof reader, particularly if you find yourself working for a commercially driven organisation (and few organisations aren’t commercially driven in one way or another), you’ll be called upon to compromise.
This means identifying corrections that absolutely must be carried out and those which are ‘nice to do’. It’s going to hurt a little, I’m afraid, but you’re just going to have to be strong.
Examples of the kinds of things that absolutely must be carried out include:
• Spelling errors
• Factual inaccuracies
• Incorrect information (e.g. contact details)
• Lack of clarity (and other ‘customer unfriendly’ copy)
• Anything that might bring the business into disrepute
Examples of the kinds of things that are ‘nice to do’ include:
• Stylistic inconsistencies
• Hyphen usage
• Split infinitives and other slight deviations from the strictest rules of English grammar
• Personal bugbears (e.g. you might be irked by the overuse of adverbs)
When marking up a proof, use two different coloured pens, one red and one green. The red marks are crucial, the green ‘nice to do’. This enables you to demonstrate to your employer that you haven’t missed anything and at the same time lets them know that you fully appreciate the need for schedule adherence.
When I was an Operations Manager, one of my duties was carrying out performance reviews. Those proof readers that showed an appreciation of matters beyond the scope of their day-to-day activities (i.e. recognised that they were part of a greater whole) always receives glowing appraisals.
And, hopefully, so will you.
There are quite a few advertisements for The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course floating around the web now, and they all lead off with pretty much the same message: “If you can spell, have a reasonable grasp of grammar and can concentrate for prolonged periods, you may have what it takes to be a proof reader.”
Now, The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course is true to its title: no nonsense. It tells you everything you need to know to become an effective proof reader and how to go about setting up your proofreading business. It doesn’t go off on any tangents. So, it doesn’t cover the third component covered in our various advertisements: concentration.
Luckily we have this website and, more particularly, this regularly-updated blog. Here we can go off on any tangent we please without adversely affecting the no-nonsense philosophy of the course itself. Which is a slightly tortuous way of telling you that today’s blog post is all about concentration.
Here are five tips to help you stay on the ball.
1. Stay hydrated. It is a fact that dehydration reduces our ability to concentrate. Keep a bottle of water on hand, drinking from it little and often.
2. Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Although the links between sugar and conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are tenuous, it is a fact that refined sugar products produce a rapid and heightened energy boost. You simply don’t require that kind of fidget-inducing fuel when you’re chained to a desk for a couple of hours trying to stay focused. Energy you need, yes, but something that creates more of ‘steady as she goes’ effect. Think raisins, an apple or fruit juice (hydration and energy).
3. Get plenty of sleep. Studies show that lack of sleep dramatically reduces our ability to concentrate, so try to get at least six hours, but preferably seven or eight.
4. Stretch your legs. Exercise clears the mind and shakes off the sluggishness that can creep into your muscles (not to mention your very soul) when you spend long periods of time at a desk. Make sure you take at least half an hour of exercise each day, preferably somewhere around the midpoint of your working day. A brisk walk ought to do it.
5. Stimulate your brain. Your mind is like a muscle and lack of use can cause it to atrophy. As a full-time proof reader, your mind is going to receive regular and vigorous workouts. Unfortunately, those workouts are all going to be similar and somewhat repetitive, and the mind, like any muscle, needs a variety of workouts if it is going to stay in peak condition. Crosswords, lateral thinking puzzles and even maths-orientated problems will help your brain ‘go for the burn’. You’ll find a regularly updated crossword on our Fun page.
Now, I think I need to stretch my legs...
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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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