Proofreading 101: What It Is, Why It Matters
Chances are, you learned the importance of proofreading somewhere between middle and high school after getting a marked-up essay back from your teacher. There, scrawled in red pen at the top of the page, were the words, “Be sure to proofread your essay before submitting it.”
Since then, you’ve known that proofreading is important, but did you ever truly learn how to do it—or even what it is?
For many of us, proofreading is a somewhat vague skill, one that cobbles together our desire to fix written mistakes and our general command of language. It’s just a step we know we need to take, so we do our best—and we often do it too soon.
If you want to catch up and learn the ins and outs of proofreading, you’ve come to the right place. At McMul, proofreading is one of our specialties. We don’t just love making your writing the best it can be—we love helping you grow as a writer.
So, it’s time to go back to school! This post will be the first in a series of six (#2)that will revolutionize your understanding of this deceptively difficult and complex task. We’ll take a top-down approach, beginning with a simple definition.
What Does Proofread Mean?
Merriam-Webster defines proofread as, “To read and mark corrections in (something, such as a proof).”
Well, that’s not very helpful. Isn’t that the same thing as editing?
Editing and Proofreading: What’s the Difference?
While proofreading and editing are similar, each is a separate, unique task with its own purpose. They’re sequenced too; we proofread after editing.
Editing focuses on effective communication and overall presentation, with different types defined by degrees of detail or concentration on a specific element. Developmental editing, for example, fixes the high-level organization and structure of content, while line (a.k.a. detail) editing refines prose sentence by sentence, critiquing language and voice consistency.
Proofreading, on the other hand, targets all the finer mechanical details in your writing, things like grammar, word usage, punctuation, spelling, and other minor errors or inconsistencies. Sometimes, a proofreader also adjusts formatting to make your work look more consistent. Editing focuses on effective communication and overall presentation, with different types defined by degrees of detail or concentration on a specific element. Developmental editing, for example, fixes the high-level organization and structure of content, while line (a.k.a. detail) editing refines prose sentence by sentence, critiquing language and voice consistency.
Most importantly, editing typically involves making choices about your writing from many possible options, choosing between clear and confusing, or concise and long-winded—but rarely between correct and incorrect. With proofreading, however, you do choose between correct and incorrect, reviewing spelling, grammar, punctuation, and so on.
Adding the Finishing Touches
Like any craft or art form, writing is a process of continual development, and proofreading is the final step.
Let’s say you’re building a chair. You work from your plan (blueprint/outline), build from your raw materials (wood/words), and create the first version of your piece. At this point, the chair may look complete, but it’s far from finished.
So, you get to sanding and smoothing down all the edges (editing). You add a few extra elements to shape the design, and you make sure the chair is stable enough to fulfill its purpose.
Once you’re more or less finished, you do what you do to every single woodworking project: you polish and perfect the wood (proofread). No matter where your chair started or what kinds of changes you made while building it, you add the finishing touches.
Why Is Proofreading Important?
Even a great piece of writing can be dismissed if it lacks the polish of a good proofread.
Proofreading is your last chance to fix incorrect punctuation, misused or misspelled words, and shoddy grammar. It’s that final step that makes your writing the best it can be.
But how do you actually do it? Come back for practical tips in Proofreading 102, and stay tuned past that as we dive into proofreading in Microsoft Word and Google Docs as well as proofreading PDFs.
Looking for a proof right now? As mentioned earlier, we’re proofreading pros at McMul, and we would love to give your writing the attention it deserves. Contact us today!