Tips on approaching a proofreader

Get the best from your proofreader by understanding how to select someone and communicate with them.

Proofreaders are used at the end of revising texts

Proofreaders are best used when a manuscript/piece of writing is complete (and after copyediting if you have used a copyeditor) but before publishing/making your document public. This could be sent as a Word or Google document or as a PDF in a designed format. If you make changes to the content of your document or manuscript after the proofreader has looked at it, small errors may creep in, which you will probably miss because our brain finds it hard to spot mistakes in our own work.

Find a proofreader

There are many ways to find and hire a proofreader. Always look for someone with training, experience, and who can provide references and testimonials. (Bear in mind that not all proofreaders can showcase their work for confidentiality reasons.) If you want someone who is skilled in dealing with a particular type of writing/subject area (eg. financial, academic, medical, science fiction novels) state this in your job hire brief.

Allow for a reasonable amount of time

Proofreaders need time to do their job. Also allow yourself time to go over the mark ups (corrections). The average amount of time a proofreader can sit at a job is about 6 hours before it impacts their concentration, health, and wellbeing. Some proofreaders and editors charge additional fees if the turnaround is very tight and requires them to work unsocial hours.

Provide a project brief

Provide an explanation of the project and samples of similar work if possible, your style sheet (if you have one), and anything else that will help your proofreader understand context, readership, your preferences, and concerns.

A good brief explains what the background or purpose of the text is. Who the audience is. what the client wants changed but also what the client does not want changed. For example, you might say: ‘quotations and anything written in dialect should not be corrected’.

Other good things to clarify in proofreader’s brief are:

  • How many words/pages is the job?
  • What is your deadline?
  • Are there illustrations, photos, tables, captions and graphs to check? (The proofreader will need extra time to check these).
  • What is your preferred English (British-English, US-English, Canadian English, Australian-English, South African English)?
  • Do you have a preferred dictionary (eg Collins, Oxford, Chicago, Merriam Webster)?
  • Is there any other information the proofreader needs access to?
  • Is there a house style? (Corporates and publishing houses will have these but all writers and small businesses should have one too). If you don’t, you can ask your proofreader to make one for you – it’s an add on that will be worth it in the long-term. You can also create one yourself – the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) offers a guide you can purchase.
  • How do you want corrections (mark ups) to be made? There are many options. Typical requests include making changes directly onto blogging platforms, using Commenting Tools (PDFs), using Track Changes and Comments (MS Word), or (simply) using bold, red font, [or comments in square brackets] (MS Word). In general, proofreaders dislike Google Docs.
  • Do you have a set of Terms you expect the proofreader to agree to? Proofreaders running their own business will usually have a template for clients to agree to if the client does not have one. You can negotiate aspects of the agreement.
  • How will the document be sent and returned (upload to cloud, email, courier)?

There are more questions you can ask in the job hire brief but getting these matters out of the way will help you to understand each other and help you to communicate better if issues arise, allowing you to get the most from this transaction/relationship – however you want to view it.

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