Imagine this. You have just finished writing your first novel. The elation you feel as you type ‘The End’ is palpable; it’s almost as euphoric as the birth of your first child.

It has taken many hours, weekends, late and probably sleepless nights over a significant period—possibly years to get to this point. What’s next? You tentatively hand copies around to family, friends or a writers’ group, eager for their feedback.

“The story’s good but it has a lot of typos. Did you spellcheck it?” or “I got a bit lost towards the end there…” or “what did you mean by…?” or “I thought John’s wife was Jane but in chapter 10, her name’s Sally?”

You remember you weren’t that great at English at school a hundred years ago. You realise you need a proofreader to pick up those annoying typos and grammatical errors, so you jump on Google and type “proofreader”. Hopefully you haven’t put the word “cheap” before it, as it’s best to get a proofreader whose first language is the language your book is written in.

Many keen new writers complete their first book, show it to numerous relatives or friends and based on their (unprofessional) advice, realise it needs the expert eye of a proofreader to “polish” it up before they attempt to get it published by whatever means possible.

Sadly, they are usually mistaken. The proofreader looks at the manuscript and thinks okay, what version of English are they using? There’s a fair old mix of US/UK/Australian English spellings here. As the proofreader looks at the story, it starts to unravel. Holes are picked in the narrative, errors jump off the page, the plot doesn’t make sense and clearly, this is not a straightforward ‘proofread’… it needs some serious editing.

Proofreading is very different to editing. A proofreader’s job is to make a final check of something that is ready to be published or submitted. It includes making sure all elements are included in the proper order (i.e. no missing chapter numbers), consistency, and all spelling or punctuation has been amended as necessary.

Editing on the other hand involves a lot more. A structural edit includes checking the layout, content, language (including the correct version of English is used throughout), formatting the style and presentation of your work. Keeping the readership in mind, this sometimes involves rewriting and often requires considerable consultation with the writer.

A copy edit involves checking “accuracy, clarity and consistency” (Institute of Professional Editors Limited). A piece of work may be edited two or three times before it is ready for a final proofread and submission.

Proofreading, structural editing and copy editing are all important elements of producing a piece of work that is suitable for publication (although it never guarantees acceptance by a publisher).

If you are submitting a piece of work, be it fiction, non-fiction or academic, bear in mind that your work may need a lot more than “just a proofread” and trust a professional to help your writing be the best it can be.

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