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Proofreading is an iterative process of comparing galley proofs against the original manuscripts or graphic artworks to identify transcription errors in the typesetting process. In the past, proofreaders would place corrections or proofreading marks along the margins. In modern publishing, material is generally provided in electronic form, traditional typesetting is no longer used and thus (in general) this kind of transcription no longer occurs.[a] Consequently the part played by pure proofreaders in the process has almost vanished: the role has been absorbed into copy editing to such an extent that their names have become interchangeable. Modern copy-editors may check layout alongside their traditional checks on grammar, punctuation and readability.[better source needed]
A "galley proof" (familiarly, "a proof") is a typeset version of copy or a manuscript document. It may contain typographical errors ("printer's errors"), as a result of human error during typesetting. Traditionally, a proofreader looks at an portion of text on the copy, compares it to the corresponding typeset portion, and then marks any errors (sometimes called "line edits") using standard proofreaders' marks. Unlike copy editing, the defining procedure of a proofreading service is to work directly with two sets of information at the same time. Proofs are then returned to the typesetter for correction. Correction-cycle proofs will typically have one descriptive term, such as "bounce", "bump", or "revise" unique to the department or organization and used for clarity to the strict exclusion of any other. It is a common practice for all such corrections, no matter how slight, to be sent again to a proofreader to be checked and initialled, thus establishing the principle of higher responsibility for proofreaders as compared to their typesetters or artists.
"Copy holding" or "copy reading" employs two readers per proof. The first reads the text aloud literally as it appears, usually at a comparatively fast but uniform rate. The second reader follows along and marks any pertinent differences between what is read and what was typeset. This method is appropriate for large quantities of boilerplate text where it is assumed that there will be comparatively few mistakes.
Experienced copy holders employ various codes and verbal shortcuts that accompany their reading. The spoken word "digits", for example, means that the numbers about to be read are not words spelled out; and "in a hole" can mean that the upcoming segment of text is within parentheses. "Bang" means an exclamation point. A "thump" or "screamer" made with a finger on the table represents the initial cap, comma, period, or similar obvious attribute being read simultaneously. Thus the line of text (He said the address was 1234 Central Blvd., and to hurry!) would be read aloud as "in a hole [thump] he said the address was digits 1 2 3 4 [thump] central [thump] buluhvuhd [thump] comma and to hurry bang". Mutual understanding is the only guiding principle, so codes evolve as opportunity permits. In the above example, two thumps after buluhvuhd might be acceptable to proofreaders familiar with the text.
"Double reading" is when a single proofreader checks a proof in the traditional manner and then another reader repeats the process. Both initial the proof. Note that with both copy holding and double reading, responsibility for a given proof is necessarily shared by the two proofreaders. Recently, artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT by OpenAI, has been used in this process; however, there is deep concern about the effectiveness of using artificial intelligence for a human task like editing.
"Scanning" is used to check a proof without reading it word for word, has become common with computerization of typesetting and the popularization of word processing. Many publishers have their own proprietary typesetting systems, while their customers use commercial programs such as Word. Before the data in a Word file can be published, it must be converted into a format used by the publisher. The end product is usually called a conversion. If a customer has already proofread the contents of a file before submitting it to a publisher, there will be no reason for another proofreader to re-read it from the copy (although this additional service may be requested and paid for). Instead, the publisher is held responsible only for formatting errors, such as typeface, page width, and alignment of columns in tables; and production errors such as text inadvertently deleted. To simplify matters further, a given conversion will usually be assigned a specific template.
Proofreaders are expected to be consistently accurate by default because they occupy the last stage of typographic production before publication.
Checklists are common in proof-rooms where there is sufficient uniformity of product to distil some or all of its components into a list. They may also act as a training tool for new hires. Checklists are never comprehensive, however: proofreaders still have to find all mistakes that are not mentioned or described, thus limiting their usefulness.
Proofreading and copy-editing
The term "proofreading" is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to copy editing, and vice versa. Although there is necessarily some overlap, proofreaders typically lack any real editorial or managerial authority. What they can do is mark queries for typesetters, editors, or authors. To set expectations before hiring proofreaders, some employers post a notice that the job advertised is not a writing or editing position and will not become one. Creativity and critical thinking by their very nature conflict with the strict copy-following discipline that commercial and governmental proofreading requires. Thus, proofreading and editing are fundamentally separate responsibilities. In contrast to proofreaders, "copy editors" focus on a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the text to "clean it up" by improving grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, and structure. The copy editor is usually the last editor an author will work with. Copy editing focuses intensely on style, content, punctuation, grammar, and consistency of usage.
Copy editing and proofreading are parts of the same process, their necessity depends on the stage of the writing process. Copy editing is required during the drafting stage. A copy editor polishes the text for precision and conciseness. The copy editors attempt to understand the purpose of the writing and the intended audience; therefore, they will ask questions such as where the document will be published and who will read it, and edit accordingly. Proofreading is the last step of the editing process. The scope of proofreading is limited as the proofreader focuses only on reading the text to ensure the document is error-free and ready for publication. Proofreading generally focuses on correcting any final typos, spelling errors, stylistic inconsistencies (e.g., whether words or numerals are used for numbers), and punctuation errors.
Examples of proofreaders in fiction include:
- The History of the Siege of Lisbon (Historia do Cerco de Lisboa), a 1989 novel by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago
- the short story "Proofs" in George Steiner's Proofs and Three Parables (1992)
- the short story "Evermore" in Cross Channel (1996) by Julian Barnes, in which the protagonist Miss Moss is a proofreader for a dictionary.
- Under the headline "Orthographical" in James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses, the protagonist Leopold Bloom, watching the typesetter foreman Mr. Nannetti read over a "limp galleypage", thinks "Proof fever".
- Isaac Asimov's short story "Galley Slave" features a robot proofreader.
- Camera-ready – Document technically ready to print
- Distributed Proofreaders – Web-based proofreading project
- Etaoin shrdlu – Common metal-type printing error
- Galley proof – First proofs printed from type, usually before breaking into pages
- ISO 5776 – Standard symbols for proofreading
- List of proofreaders marks
- Obelism – Editors' marks on manuscripts
- Press check (printing) – Verifies color on press v. color proof.
- Style guide – Standard for writing and design of documents
- Typographical syntax – Aspect of typography
- Writing circle – Support group of like-minded writers
- An equivalent function continues in specialist scientific, technical and mathematical publications, where complex notations or diagrams are transcribed from manuscripts to electronic document form using specialist software.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Levy B, Begin J (1984). "Proofreading familiar text: allocating resources to perceptual and conceptual processes". Memory & Cognition: 621–632. doi:10.3758/BF03213351.
- "Proofreading Marks and What They Mean". Editor World. Retrieved 2023-03-09.
- Harnby, Louise (9 April 2016). "Start-up skills: Proofread like it's 1976".
- "Proofreaders' Marks". Archived from the original on 2010-08-16. Retrieved 2009-06-16. from Merriam Webster
- See 1983 "Company timeline". Archived from the original on April 29, 2010.
- ProofreadingCamp.com. "Copy That: The Categories and Classes of Editing". Archived from the original on August 26, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
- "Editing vs. Proofreading: What's The Difference". Enago. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
- "Guide to Proofreading". Editor World. Retrieved 2023-02-28.
- Joyce, James (1922). "Chapter 7]". Ulysses. London, Paris: Egoist Press, John Rodker. pp. 116–117 – via Project Gutenberg. (Facsimile copy at Archive.org)