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Proofreading publications

Sally-Anne Watson Kane . Monday, May 23, 2016 . Comments
Proofreading publications

A manuscript that is going to be published in hardcopy needs to be (1) written and edited to the stage where it is ready for proofreading, (2) proofread prior to being submitted to the printer, then (3) proofread again once the 'hard copy proof' has been produced by the printer.

Proofreading a hard copy publication

This article describes the process of proofreading a hard copy publication that you are intending to self-publish. You may organise the whole publication yourself or hire a publications coordinator to help you by organising the editors, proofreaders, printer and others involved in publishing the book; working out a budget and timeline; ensuring that the book is properly edited, proofread and sent to the printer by the due dates; ensuring the hard copy proof is proofread and any final corrections made; and approving the print-run.

Note: if your book is in the hands of a publishing company, you probably don't need to read this article because the publisher should look after the whole process including proofreading; and if you're publishing your book electronically (with Amazon or another e-publisher) this article may be helpful but won't tell you all you need to know about the publishing or proofreading process.

Converting the file

Most people write and edit documents in a common format such as MS Word or Publisher. As those documents are not always fully compatible with the programs used by printers, often they need to be converted. Some printers' programs have good compatibility with Word or Publisher and the conversion doesn't create any errors in the document. However, some programs are not so compatible and the conversion process can produce all sorts of small errors.

Early in the editing stage, the editor or publications coordinator should ask the printer for a list of the file formats that are fully compatible with the printer's program. Then, if it's practical to do so, the editor can convert the manuscript into one of those compatible formats so that any errors produced as a result of converting the file can be corrected early in the process.

However, it's usually not practical for the document to be converted at that early stage. The editor may not have the specialised program that the printer uses or any experience in using that program. More often than not, the editor and proofreader work on the manuscript in MS Word or Publisher format. Once it has been proofread, the manuscript is submitted to the printer who prepares it for printing, which usually means converting the document into a file format that is compatible with their program.

First proofreading stage

The first proofreading process should eliminate any errors in the document so it is ready to be submitted to the printer. This proofreading may be done electronically and/or in hardcopy and is always completed prior to submitting a document to a printer or anyone else. This proofreading stage is described in more detail in my previous Blog article: What is proofreading?

Once the document has been proofread, it is submitted to the printer who then converts it, if necessary, into a suitable format.

Final proofreading stage

The printer always prints out a copy of the manuscript for the publications coordinator or proofreader to view, or proofread, prior to commencing the print-run. This copy is called the 'hard copy proof' or the 'print proof' and is in the exact format in which the book is going to be published.

No matter how well the manuscript has been proofread prior to being submitted to the printer, the hard copy proof must be proofread carefully - word by word, line by line, page by page - against the version of the document that was sent to the printer to make sure that (1) both versions are identical, and (2) there are no errors in the final document.

Potential Errors

Whilst converting the document to the file-type needed by the printer's program may not cause any problems, it may cause one or more of the following errors:

  • A different character replacing certain letters either in certain sections or throughout the document
  • Incorrect punctuation marks or symbols either in certain sections or throughout the document
  • Incorrect spacing, blank lines, orphan lines or orphan words
  • Incorrect placement of photographs or images
  • Lines of text, images or even whole pages omitted.

When proofreading the hard copy proof, if the proofreader detects any errors they should mark their corrections on the hard copy document, advise the publications coordinator and:

  • If there are only a few errors, provide a list of the errors to the printer who corrects them
  • If there are a lot of errors, negotiate with the printer whether the proofreader or the printer should make those final corrections to the electronic version of the document. Because the person who  makes those final corrections will need access to the printer's program it is usually more practical for the printer to make those corrections.

The contract between the client and printer/e-publisher should state who is to bear the cost of correcting any errors found in the hard copy proof. If there is no contract or this is not stated, the publications coordinator, proofread and printer need to discuss whose fault it is that the errors have occurred and who is responsible for the cost of correcting the errors. Generally speaking, if the errors have been created after the proofread document was sent to the printer, the printer usually bears the cost; if the errors are a result of the manuscript not having been properly proofread prior to being sent to the printer, the client usually bears the cost.

If there are no errors

As long as the manuscript has been properly proofread prior to being sent to the printer, and the printer's conversion of the document into another format has not resulted in any errors, the hard copy proof will be identical to the previous draft and have no errors.

Once the proofreader is sure there are no errors in the hard copy proof, they or the publications coordinator sign their approval and the printer commences the print-run.

For more information

  • about the editing stages, see my previous Blog article: The three stages of editing. 
  • about the first proofreading stage, see my previous Blog article: What is proofreading?

This article is based on my experience in editing and proofreading my own and others' publications; and self-publishing mainly non-fiction hard copy publications.

Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading, and self-publishing.


Copyright Sally-Anne Watson Kane, On Time Typing. Please seek my permission prior to reproducing this article in any way but feel free to link directly to this page if you wish to use this content - thanks!


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