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When you say you are an Editor or a proofreader, the first thing that people think is that you’re an expert in the language in which you are proofreading. However, there is more to being proficient in a language when it comes to proofreading carefully and eliminating conspicuous errors.

I have put together seven qualities of a proofreader that can help you:

  1. Identify your ideal proofreader
  2. Become a better proofreader
  3. Start your proofreading career

7 qualities of an excellent proofreader

1. Excellent attention to detail

I always talk about my humongous eyes and people laugh at me, however, they come in handy for me although being an excellent proofreader does not necessarily mean possessing huge eyes. All you need are Eagle eyes – eyes that can spot every error on every page.

Paying exceptional attention to detail means leaving no stone unturned. A proofreader should be able to spot errors from at any point you give them a some work.

Excellent proofreaders understand the difference between there, they’re, and their. They know when you should use “less” rather than “fewer.” And they do not hang on to outdated or just plain wrong grammar myths. Language evolves and they stay updated.

Proofreaders possess a special ability to pick out mistakes because of their excellent attention to detail. For instance, when everyone is saying ‘Wow” to a cover design, an excellent proofreader will tell you that there is a missing letter on the title, which everyone would have read past and focussed on the great design laid out.

While this type of people may be deemed boring, especially in social media groups when they pick out and corrector errors. Their talent and skill is fit for the proofreading job because they always pay attention to detail, even in odd places.

2. Read widely

Avid readers are known to be knowledgeable people. Knowledge is a prerequisite for excellent proofreading, as well as editing. You do not have to know everything out rightly but a fair appreciation of issues is required.

The key is knowing an error when you see one, or knowing that it could be an error and having the sense to stop and check. The ability to double check issues is an excellent proofreading tactic as it enables the proofreader to clarify mistakes. When one is unsure, it is prudent to quickly check. NB. Do not postpone the checking. Always have your proofreading tools within reach or google when unsure.

An excellent proofreader has to be willing to research what they do not know. This could be grammar, punctuation that you are unsure of or spellings.

While proofreaders do not know everything, they need to be willing to ask and invest in always upskilling themselves.

3. Consistency

If the proofreader does not have a style guide from the author/publisher to work with, then she ought to check for instance, if the author’s spelling of a word throughout the text is consistent, and also, she should consider the author’s attitude to hyphenation as a whole throughout the work.

With every change made, the author needs to be consistent throughout the manuscript.

4. Style

People write in different styles. The key is being consistent and relevant. An excellent proofreader must be able to maintain the writer’s style. If it is a chatty, informal journal-type of a book, the proofreader does not necessarily change the language used just to make the text grammatically correct, as this could make it stylistically wrong. Also, if a novel is written in the first-person narrative, where the author’s voice should be heard in a particular tone and dialect, the proofreader does not alter that style.

To be a proofreader, you should also familiarise yourself with the most common stylebooks. Organisations often adopt an established style guide or create their own in-house guide.

5. Focus

A professional proofreader’s undivided focus and concentration is key to the accurate finding of errors. This makes sense when you consider the proofreader’s task – which is to look for errors that a professional Editor has already missed, hence these errors are naturally difficult to spot. For instance, while proofreaders check between the final copy and the original for inaccuracies, they need to also pick up on any problems with style, spelling or any perceived inconsistencies. Hence the need for single-minded concentration on the work at hand.

An excellent proofreader should possess good judgement, to gauge which changes are necessary.

6. Fast reader

The ability to read fast and accurately is a prerequisite for being an excellent and efficient proofreader while picking out all errors. She is hawk-eyed, so notices things which slip through spell check like ‘gain’ for ‘again’, ‘whist’ for ‘whilst’, which are valid words in their own right, just not in your context.

7. Enthusiastic

Proofreaders are naturally enthusiastic people who love words, language and reading. They enjoy their work and derive satisfaction from identifying mistakes. This job can only be accomplished when one is happy not gloomy.

Conclusion

Excellent proofreaders are meticulous. They have a strong desire to be excellent. You have to want to do an amazing job. The idea is not to wow your clients but to produce work that you will always be proud of when published.

Excellence and professionalism is expected and mistakes are not forgiven as easily as they would be in any other industry and no one wants to live with that guilt. 

We make mistakes, but when we do, we need to handle it with poise and learn from the experience. 

Best of wishes in your writing project. Make sure you develop effective proofreading habits to help you produce the best work. Send me a WhatsApp message, e-mail or call for your editing and book publishing quote.

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4 thoughts on “What makes an excellent proofreader?”

  1. Tinotenda Agatha

    You cannot go wrong in publishing if you are a person who is attentive to detail, a skill and trait that is perfected with time.

    An editor or proofreader has to resist the urge to change the author’s style of writing..ooh yes that’s really true.

    Thanks a lot for the proofreading tips. Will surely use them in my work.

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