I was asked recently by some students how I typically go about proofreading a document that a publisher/editor/writer sends me. Each proofreading project is unique, but there are some basic steps to my workflow that I follow every time.

  1. Read the publisher’s style guide – Before starting any proofreading project, you have to familiarize yourself with the style guide of the publisher because it will impact language and punctuation preferences, layout standards, and required proofreading and editing nomenclature.
  2. Determine any reference books needed, then pull then from my shelves or open the PDFs – I determine the game system(s) and other books in the game line that might be referenced in the book I am proofreading and put them in easy reach on my desk or open the PDFs on my computer. This is more common when proofreading roleplaying games, but I have needed to do this for some novellas as well. PDFs are great for quick searches, but I find I prefer marking often-used pages with post-it notes. Achtung! Cthulhu references Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds spells frequently, so I have bookmarks in the relevant sections of the core game books for quick reference.
  3. Prep my proofreading comments document (Track Changes for .doc files, create Word Doc for PDF files, copy of file for Scrivener) – Different projects submit different document formats for proofreading. Proofreading a .doc file is easiest because you can enable track changes and make your edits and proofs directly to the document but you see none of the document layout or images in such a file.  PDFs allow you to proofread the text, images and layout of the nearly finalized document. Scrivener is nice when working on novellas with an author because you can work with the same file structure.
  4. Skim the document first to get a feel of its layout – I always scroll through the entire document quickly to become familiar with its layout and design elements. Especially important for documents with lots of tables and imagery.
  5. Search document for common errors and obvious layout issues – In my proofreader pet peeves, I have listed some of the common grammatical errors I see and look for quickly in each document. A quick search of a document can find these first off, making a good first blush to the proofreading.
  6. Proofread ten to fifteen pages at a time or until a chapter break, take a break, repeat until end of document – I can’t emphasize this enough. Take breaks periodically when editing or proofreading. Give your eyes time to refocus and to clear your head. If you attempt to proofread an entire book in one sitting, or even just push through 40 or 50 pages in one sitting, I can guarantee you will make mistakes. Your mind will wander and you will lose focus on the words you are reading and thus overlook some errors.
  7. Search document for page number references and confirm they are all correct – If the document has lots of page references, it is much quicker to search for them and confirm them all in one sitting rather than breaking your flow mid proofreading of a paragraph. Skip over page numbers in text and confirm them later.
  8. Confirm Table of Contents Page Numbers – I prefer to print out the Table of Contents and mark off each page that I confirm and make notes on the page of issues. Then when I have completed the index, I type up any changes I recommend.
  9. Confirm Index Page Numbers – Like the Table of Contents, I print the index out and confirm each page number. I always wait to confirm the Index after I read the entire document because I might also remember pages that I read regarding a topic in the Index that was not included.  I can then suggest them.
  10. Add general comments and questions regarding the document to my proofreading comments document – Once the entire document is proofread, I make any general comments I have regarding the text, layout, trends I saw in my proofreading, and document-wide recommendations.
Reminder: Take Breaks to stay focused!

Once the proofreading is completed, I send my proofreading comments document and invoice to the publisher/editor/writer. For publishers that offer, I always enjoy receiving their notes on the proofreading comments document. This allows me to see what suggested changes that were accepted and what ones were denied, hopefully with the reasoning. This feedback helps me better understand the preferences and style of the publisher/editor/writer for future projects.

If you do freelance work, what is your standard workflow?

Q&A: How Do You Proofread A Document?

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