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Why A Proofreader Will Help Your Work Stand Out For The Right Reasons By WBR Proofreader Sonya Barker

New and aspiring authors can find the process of writing and publishing a book intimidating, but with the right editorial and proofreading support, you can trust that you won’t be sharing stories about life giving you melons (more on this shortly)!

I’ve always had a keen interest in spelling, grammar and punctuation. When I was ten years old, I worked my way through The Usborne Guide to Better English just for fun (yes, really!). Unsurprisingly, I went on to study English at university and then eventually became an editor at a major publishing house. All of this stood me in good stead for my later role as a proofreader at Write Business Results

Proofreading takes place after your text has been edited and just before it’s published. I’m the last “quality control inspector”, as it were, before your book or blog goes out into the big, wide world. I always feel an immense sense of pride and achievement knowing that I have helped you as an author to express your key messages as clearly and cleanly as possible, so that readers stay focused on your brilliant insights (rather than being distracted by random full stops or stray letters!).

Can’t I just use spell-check?

Spell-check is a major support for writers, but think about the opening sentence of this blog: spell-check doesn’t have the intelligence to know the phrase “when life gives you lemons”, so it won’t highlight “melons” as incorrect in this context. A proofreader, on the other hand, knows better.

Aside from helping to catch any last niggling typos, there are many other reasons why you should invest in an established proofreader. For example:

  • A proofreader will identify incorrect use of homophones, such as “they’re”, “there” or “their”, or “your” and “you’re” (spell-check may not).
  • A skilled proofreader will perform a final “sense check” and flag any places where meaning is ambiguous or cross-references are wrong (spell-check does not).
  • An adept proofreader will check the general layout and presentation, making sure that various style choices are applied consistently throughout (spell-check won’t do this). 
  • A professional proofreader will often provide a fact-checking service or highlight where a third-party source needs to be credited (spell-check can’t do this).
  • A good proofreader can also help to ensure that a body of work is inclusive and doesn’t reinforce outdated stereotypes that could leave you open to criticism (spell-check certainly doesn’t have this capability).

When you pour your heart and soul into your book, you deserve a finished product that shines brightly and is as error-free as possible. You want to submit a polished piece of work to a publishing house; an experienced proofreader will help you accomplish this.

My personal strategy

To make sure that a book is completed to the highest standard (without those pesky spelling mistakes or missing punctuation marks), I work a maximum of five hours per day (typically proofreading up to 3,000 words per hour). I’ve developed a strategy that works well for our authors at Write Business Results.

At the start of each chapter, I will helicopter out to look at the big picture: for instance, are the chapters in consecutive order and do the headings line up with the contents page? I then skim-read each paragraph to sense check the content and ensure that it flows well. If it has a solid basic structure, I’ll then read the paragraph again at a much slower pace so that I can see every letter in every word. It’s amazing how our brains will fill in the gaps and automatically read words correctly even if they have letters missing.

Within each chapter, I’ll also check that any captions are relevant and attached to the appropriate diagrams, and that references are accurately cited in a footnote. 

Crediting sources

It’s common for authors to quote directly from other sources but it’s important to consider fair dealing guidelines. These stipulate that certain quotations can be used for the purpose of “criticism and review”, providing the source is properly referenced using the author’s name, title of the book, the publisher, date of publication and, if possible, the page number.

Similarly, it’s vital to acknowledge whenever you paraphrase or indirectly refer to the work of another author; it helps the reader to see you as a professional, rather than someone who is potentially trying to pass off other people’s work or concepts as your own. If I think any third-party references might be missing or incomplete, I will flag this up to you.

The work of a proofreader can sound daunting when you’re a new author because there is so much to consider, but it’s second nature to me. Being focused and “present” helps me to do a great job for you; I even have a yoga practice that enables me to get in the zone each morning before I sit down at my desk!

Are there hard-and-fast rules?

Proofreading, just like yoga, requires a degree of flexibility too. Some grammar and spelling rules are hard and fast, but others are more subjective and can come down to individual style preferences (like whether to use -ise or -ize endings). It’s also useful to remember that, although we always strive for perfection, proofreaders are only human, and no human or book will ever be 100 per cent perfect!

What is crucial is that you aim for consistency throughout an article, book or blog, and that the text is as clear and meaningful as possible. All of this enhances your credibility as an author – and a proofreader’s fresh pair of eyes can assist with these key elements (often I will spot things that someone else may have missed simply because they are too familiar with the text). The proofreading process takes time and skill that goes way beyond the capabilities of any spell-check.

Diversity intelligence

Whilst spell-check has its place, it doesn’t have the ability to recognise how the world is evolving. When I proofread an author’s work, I scan for language and any practical examples that could be viewed as insensitive or controversial. Where possible, I will suggest modifications so that your text is more inclusive.

Inclusivity is often a blind spot for authors because, unless you are in a minority yourself, you may not always be able to see that something you have written could be misconstrued or could inadvertently cause offence. It can be tricky to find the right balance, but as a proofreader with a good awareness of current issues, I can help your book to appeal to as many people as possible and avoid attracting negative reviews.

For example, if the author of a virtual team-building book recommends an ice-breaker that invites people to stand up and do star jumps at their desk, how does this translate to someone in a wheelchair? Can you switch the activity so that it can be easily performed by everyone? Likewise, if sections of your book are employing fictional case studies, can you use culturally diverse or gender-neutral names? If you feature scenarios where women are always portrayed as receptionists or junior staff members and men are the powerful chief executives, can you mix things up so that you don’t perpetuate old-fashioned gender stereotypes?

Even little tweaks like these (as a starting point) can make a big difference. They help you as an author to grow your audience, and they help us as a society to become more “diversity intelligent”.

The right focus

I want every reader to focus on the article, book or blog that they are reading without being disturbed by annoying typos or errors. There are so many inspiring stories waiting to be released into the world, and an amazing proofreader will help you make sure they are highly polished and attract attention for all the right reasons!

At Write Business Results, we assist you in creating impact and building an outstanding personal brand through books, blogs and podcasts. Thanks to an expert team of content developers, writers, editors and proofreaders, Write Business Results can support you from concept to completion. Schedule a discovery session to start bringing your own book to life!

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