Good proofreaders catch errors that would embarrass, torment, and diminish us if those errors appeared in print or online. But their jobs aren't easy. Those valuable workers often put up with tense deadlines, continual interruptions, and unrealistic expectations.
Are you someone who makes proofreaders' lives difficult?
Don't make your proofreaders quit in frustration or lower their high standards. Take these steps to support their excellent work and keep them sane and efficient:
1. Understand what you are asking.
Proofreading is finding and correcting errors and inconsistencies in documents that are virtual final drafts. It is not reorganizing, reformatting, rewriting, or editing. Those are separate steps. Before you give a piece to a proofreader for a final review, make sure it has already gone through its rounds of revisions, if necessary. Do not give proofreaders early drafts.
Similarly, track document versions carefully. Don't expect a proofreader to proofread various versions of the same document. Ask your proofreaders what they recommend as a way to manage versions and approvals.
2. Be reasonable. Agree to agree with others.
One of the biggest time eaters for proofreaders is a writer’s (director’s, attorney’s, administrator's, etc.) insistence on idiosyncratic punctuation, usage, and “rules.” You can save time, effort, and your proofreaders’ goodwill and sanity if you agree to agree with others. That means following your company’s style or the style guide most people there use.
Don’t be stubborn. Don’t be the person about whom the proofreader says, “He insists it be this way despite what the dictionary and style manuals say.” And if you don’t understand a change your proofreader has made, ask questions to understand the correction rather than automatically reject it.
If you have made certain style decisions on your own—for instance, you use Canadian spelling because you have Canadian clients—let your proofreaders know that. Be open to their feedback on your decisions.
As a team, agree on a style manual that all of you will follow. For issues that your style guide doesn’t cover—for example, how to render the abbreviation of your company or department name—have a team decide, and then get everyone to agree to the change. Don’t be a holdout! Don’t argue over little things that make no real difference. Consistency is the key to speed and efficiency.
3. Allow time to do the job right.
Careful proofreading takes time. It can take several minutes per page depending on the complexity of the content. Do not be the person who runs in at 3:30 saying, “We need to get this proposal out by 4 p.m.!” That’s an impossible request for a lengthy document that is likely to require some corrections. Instead, add proofreading time to your schedule. For instance, run in at 10 a.m. with that 4 o'clock request, allowing time for proofreading, any required approvals, and printing.
4. Give your proofreaders space.
Proofreading requires concentration. The job can’t be done well with interruptions. Avoid calling, pinging, emailing, or standing over your proofreaders while they work—and dissuade others from interrupting them. Encourage your proofreaders to use a conference room or another quiet space.
5. Make proofreading a priority.
Proofreading is as essential as planning, writing, formatting, editing, and printing. Make it a priority—not an afterthought. Schedule it. Train people to do it well. And when you have excellent proofreaders, respect them. Accept the corrections they make. After all, if you aren’t going to defer to their knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and usage, why use them at all?
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6. Recognize that unending perfection is not an option.
Know that occasionally something will slip by even after several editors and proofreaders have reviewed a document. How do I know this? Because I cringe when I see the phrase “thanks-you notes” in my book Business Writing With Heart, knowing that two proofreaders (including me) carefully reviewed it.
If you are a proofreader, please tell us what you wish your clients, supervisors, or others would do to help you stay sane and productive.
P.S. This article appeared in my e-newsletter Better Writing at Work in a slightly different form.