As printing technology has evolved, so has the essential profession of
proof reading. But though the technical details have changed, the purpose has not: To ensure
that a printed work will be a precise, word-for-word match with the manuscript's final edited
Typographical errors used to result from slips of an operator's fingers on the keys
of a linotype machine, or from a bad scan by an early generation optical character reader. Now
they are likely to stem from high-tech issues: Mistakes in consolidating various digital versions
of a manuscript, or glitches in electronically flowing text onto a page, or errors overlooked in
the editing stages.
A typical proof reading job involves line-by-line comparisons between the printer's
page proofs and a text's ultimate approved version. Most often this is a Microsoft Word document
that's been back and forth between author and editor. Printer's proofs may be supplied as hard
copies on paper, or as digital files. Electronic proofs ordinarily are in Adobe's Portable
Document Format (PDF.)
Another important aspect of proof reading is checking details that exist only in a book's
final, printed (or published e-book) form. Are page numbers correct? Does text wrap correctly
from page to page? Do chapter headings match the table of contents? Are illustrations, footnotes
and other material in the correct places? Is the spacing between elements consistent? Are words
hyphenated correctly when broken at line endings? Is the typography consistent, with all sizes and
A professional proof reader is accustomed to looking for such problems. An author's
smart, educated, helpful friend who volunteers as an unpaid proof reader may not even know these
things are an issue -- and lets them go uncorrected.
Who needs proof reading? Every author does. For every work. The harm that uncorrected
errors can cause to your reputation may make it difficult or impossible to get your next book
published. Can you proof your own work? Yes and no. Sure, you can review your own press proofs.
But it's a cold, hard fact that typos and other errors are invisible to the author's too-familiar
eye. And there's a difference in temperament between a writer's creative mind and a good proof
reader's meticulous, fussy mental habits.
Is proofing enough? It may be, if you are an experienced writer, accustomed to the
detailed work of ensuring your copy is both clean and clear. But the vast majority of authors need
both careful copy editing as a first step, and diligent proof reading at the conclusion of the
Why you can't do without a second set of eyes
Had the pastor who posted this inspirational message on the church marquee only asked
his secretary to take a critical look behind him, he would have been spared the embarrassment of
seeing his gaffe go viral.
Don't let this happen to you! Before 10,000 copies of your first novel go to press, let an
experienced professional proof your pages. It's still not too late!
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