I’ve been working on a textbook update where the client wants “copy editing” over top of the new author’s changes to the text (!!!). A bit messy to look at a marked-up copy, but I’m getting through. Doing just copy editing on a PDF of the textbook rather than a Word manuscript does point up the substantive differences between copy editing and proofreading, though. I have to refrain from spending time on what are normally proofreading tasks.
Proofreading, which is normally done on a clean PDF copy right before printing, looks at a lot more than just spelling and grammar. We do read to see typos and such, but this is the only time we get to check the consistency of the compositor/book designer’s work as well. It’s about the whole book as presented to the reader, not just the text.
Here are some elements of a text that the proofreader is called upon to check (and which may or may not be finalized in the manuscript) to ensure consistency across an entire document:
- Compositor mistakes like missing running heads, terms suddenly appearing in a different font or size
- Heading level errors where the revision author uses Heading 3 where the template for the content calls for Heading 2
- Heading rows in tables misaligned in different chapters
- Footnote numbers not handled consistently from one chapter to the next
- Case study template violated where one chapter only has one column, but the others have two with a standard set of questions in the left column
- References handled inconsistently for capitalization, order of names, and punctuation; easy for authors to forget and just paste in a new reference using a different style
- Consistent verbiage for information on intro and access date for website URLs in references
- Forgetting to give the spelled out version of a term with the acronym on first mention
- Formatting for source references at the bottoms of figures and tables (in my project’s case, the formatting was different in these two cases)
- Capitalization rules for units of measure
- Verifying accuracy of URLs in references (usually an extra job in my experience and one that adds cost to the job)
As you can see, there are a lot of things to check. I usually go through the text several times to look at individual issues (bigger ones to smaller ones), and if something can be checked by searching on a specific term or set of terms, I will take care of those prior to actually reading through the text. I have a good eye, but trying to see all of these things at once is almost impossible in one go.
I actually enjoy this work tremendously, especially as a break from developmental editing or book indexing. It doesn’t involve subject analysis, so my brain gets to just focus on mechanical aspects of a text. Not that proofreading is easier, necessarily, just that it uses a slightly different part of my brain.