Today is National Proofreading Day. I thought I’d talk a bit about what proofreading actually is and where it fits in the process of getting your manuscript ready for readers.
Prepublication’s final step
The first thing to begin to understand about proofreading is that it is the last editing step before publication. Proofreading is done after page layout and book formatting is set. If you find an error, you can only minimally move anything around because moving too many things will mess up the layout.
For this reason, proofreading is generally limited to misspelled words (misused ones, malaprops, even homophones should have been corrected during copy editing and/or line editing) where letters have been transposed, such as “teh” being corrected to “the,” because this will not alter the spacing in any significant way.
It’s the same with punctuation. A comma that should be removed, moved (reversed with a quotation mark, for example) or inserted, won’t often push the spacing on a line too much, causing words to shift from line to line. The same thing for missing quotation marks. A period to replace a comma means making the next word capitalized. That can get tricky because a capital letter is slightly wider than its lowercase counterpart. But if it’s an error that wasn’t caught by previous editors, it has to be noted now, or the book will continue into print with the error.
Layout and Style
The final things that have to be checked are layout and style. This includes looking that the fonts all match the style guidelines. For example, all body text in Garamond 11, and chapter titles in Garamond 18. Also checking that italics are properly applied where needed (internal thoughts, and other things as dictated by the style guide). Finally, check that paragraphs are all indented to the proper depth (or not indented as in the case of the start of a chapter), and the margins are all justified, not ragged. There should be no weird line breaks or stretched spacing because of a hidden soft return, too.
How it’s done
Because proofreading is so close to the publication step, proofreading should be done on the PDF. The proofreader makes comments, or simple editorial strike/replace marks so that the managing editor or printer can make the small adjustments in the actual print-ready file. The printer or managing editor has tools to adjust the kerning (spacing between the letters) if necessary to prevent the layout from messing up.