Proofreading Requires More Than Just SpellCheck


Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by

Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by BookWorks.comA lot of ink has been spilled over the need for proofreading, and whether or not indies versus traditionally published authors lack the discipline to proofread their own work. Whether it’s due to limited budgets, time allocations or lack of skills, critics are quick to categorize the self-publishing author as less than reputable when it comes to proofreading.

Granted, there’s nothing more exasperating than paying for an eBook, only to find it plagued with grammatical and punctuation errors, misspellings, in addition to formatting issues.

Typographically Speaking. . .

As my colleague and fellow blogger, Victoria McNally pointed out in her recent blog, “Are Typos a Problem In Books?”, folks like Steven Carter at the Financial Times consider the issue fairly black-Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by BookWorks.comand-white. “In my experience, it is rare to find a typographical or spelling error in a printed book, while they are rife in eBooks,” asserts Carter.

However, even if some of these practices occur more often on the self-publishing plane than in the traditionally published world, today’s blog will not debate the issue or point fingers. Knowing that the shortcoming exists is enough of a red flag to make us want to find out how we can rectify the issue.

Proofreading vs. Editing

Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by BookWorks.comPerhaps the first step is to clear up one misconception. If you’re puzzled over the difference between proofreading and editing, it’s a common misunderstanding. Many indie authors are confused as to which procedure does what?

While both proofreading and editing are needed to complete any manuscript, they are two distinct endeavors. Editing a book improves the flow of a book’s narrative. It helps identify, refine and enhance content to provide readers with a more enjoyable reading experience.

One anecdote that’s been passed around in literati circles for a while now probably best underscores the importance of editing and how it distinguishes itself from proofreading. It’s been said Ian Fleming’s editor was the one who suggested James Bond should “drink martinis, shaken, not stirred.” That piece of editorial advice was immeasurable based on the fact that one quip is so well-known by so many people, the world over.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is about the nuts and bolts. It attends to grammatical errors, redundancies, and inconsistencies. It’s accomplished before the book is published after all the editing changes have been made.

Because there is a lot to consider in each field, today we’ll be covering proofreading only and will talk to a few entrepreneurs who specialize in providing this service for eBook authors.

Proofreading Checklist

Writer, editor Corina Koch MacLeod listed in her “Beyond Paper Editing” blog a proofreading checklist of items that proofreaders can assist with:

  • Typos
  • Misspellings
  • Spelling variations (color or colour?)
  • Confusables (avoid or evade? bizarre or bazaar?)
  • Hyphens in the middle of words that occur in the middle of a line (these tend to show up when a book has been prepared for print first, and end-of-line breaks haven't been deleted in the source file)
  • Missing hyphens
  • Missing headings (readers using headings to navigate eBooks)
  • Punctuation errors (comma splices, apostrophes, semicolons)
  • Punctuation placement ("Put it inside." "Not outside". Keep it tucked in.)
  • Unconventional use of italics and boldface
  • Inactive hyperlinks
  • Acronyms spelled out the first time (so readers know what they stand for)
  • Numbersnumerals or spelled out? (also check for accuracy — you don't want someone to die before they're born)
  • Words spelled the same way throughout the book (phoney or phony?)
  • Proper use of capital letters (the city or the City of Toronto?)
  • Caption and heading styles (sentence case or title case?)
  • Consistent use of punctuation (US or U.S.?)
  • Dates and date ranges (1963–68? or 1963–1968? Hyphen or en-dash?)
  • Citations formatted consistently (nonfiction)

The Mind Sees What It Wants to See

Jaye Manus, who's been dubbed, “The Production Goddess,” by her clients offers a full complement of production services, including scanning, restoration, eBook formatting, print-on-demand design, cover work, copy-editing, and proofreading. All of her work is custom-tailored for the client and their particular needs.

Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by

Jaye Manus

Believing in the practice of producing “squeaky clean text,” Manus says proofreading not only catches errors in the content but those that pertain to formatting as well. She does not recommend writers proofread their own work asserting that the “phenomenon of the mind ‘seeing’ what the writer meant to say rather than what is actually on the page is real.”

However if a writer does choose to do their own proofreading, she indicates there are some “effective tricks” a writer could use—namely “going backwards through the text, changing fonts and spacing periodically (as well as) reading aloud.”

Authors in the Driver’s Seat president Chandra Clarke agrees with Manus’ assertions. She also believes that employing a proofreading service is imperative, because “quite simply, you never catch your own mistakes.”

Proofreading requires more than Spellcheck by

Chandra Clarke

“This is especially true with book-length works (where) you end up reading through them several times ‎(and) stop seeing it objectively enough to spot the errors,” says Clarke.

However, Ashford also notes “authors should always maintain complete control of (their) manuscript.”

“We work hard to preserve the author's voice, and the revisions we make are done in a different color, so the author can see all the edits. We understand that these are important documents that represent a great deal of hard work and emotion,” adds Clarke.

Price Check Please

ProofreadingWhile that age-old issue of limited budgets continually plagues indie writers, proofreading might not be as expensive as you imagined.

Manus’ fees for fictional work are only $1 per 1000 words. She charges more for nonfiction ($2-3 per thousand) based on that genre being more complex, usually requiring a good amount of reference work. Payments to Manus can be made via Paypal, or by check, if you are an established client. (However, it is important to note, that Manus is currently booked through the end of 2014, and she doesn’t take on proofreading assignments, as a stand-alone.)

Scribendi, on the other hand, bases their pricing on word count and turn-around time, but in general, they range from about one-to-six cents per word (USD). To find specific rates for your document, you simply go to their instant quote widget to generate a free quote.


As we have noProofreadingted above, there are many reasons to seek out professional proofreaders, but if it’s not in the cards, the onus falls back on you, the author to conduct the heavy lifting. While a DIY approach is a challenging endeavor, it can be done if you have the luxury of time and a little patience.

For instance, you should always distance yourself from your work for a period of time—put it on ice for a week at minimum, longer if you can afford it. Then when you revisit your manuscript you will be coming back with fresh eyes. This is not ‘rocket-science,’ as even bloggers like myself often shelve blogs such as this one, for a day or two. It not only allows you to catch the mistakes, it opens you up to redevelop some of the content to achieve greater flow and readability.

Free automated tools are also available for those who choose to go it alone. For instance, when you’ve completed your proofread, you can use Intelligent Editing’s free online consistency checker to undercover what you might have missed. It’s a quick and easy way to produce a clean and consistent final product with the least number of distractions.

A good dictionary, a style guide, and online resources like those shared by our Indie Editor-at-Large, Karen Conlin, will help you fix glaring errors.

Granted, the devil is in the details and proofreading can be tedious for some, particularly for the more creative types who are more interested in conveying ideas and imagery. But if that content is hindered by language distractions, you’ve defeated your purpose. Since retaining your readers’ attention should always be your number one goal, it’s just as important to pay attention to the details, as it is the big picture.

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4 thoughts on “Proofreading Requires More Than Just SpellCheck”

  1. jimwirshing says:

    I informally consider myself to be a proofreader. Legibility and accuracy of text increases the author’s credibility.

  2. usafa93 says:

    I agree fully, Ron.

    If I am reading a piece and notice errors that were missed by a software checker, for the reasons you highlighted, then it is distracting. I know how these errors are missed. The author chose to not have a human proofread. It is especially distracting if the piece is penned for a professional media source, because they should be the enforcers of the standard.

    The software from Intelligent Editing does sound fascinating. Thanks for the heads-up on that.

  3. Don’t do it yourself. Never proofread your own material. Trade with another writer and proofread each others work. Proofreading is generally most accurate the first time the proofreader sees the text.

  4. Sarah Banham says:

    Whose been dubbed… should be who’s been dubbed.

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