At an SfEP local group meeting the other day, someone asked the question “Do you read things more than once?” Several of us answered “No” without hesitation. Often, there is not the budget to allow for more than one full pass at the proofreading or copy-editing stage. However, as the conversation went on, that “no” was further qualified.
There’s no doubt that looking at something more than once is likely to provide a more accurate end result. So when, and in what ways, might it be appropriate to go over things again?
- A way to get a quick overview is to check the contents carefully first against the main body of the book or document when proofreading. Check that chapter names are correct and numbered correctly, and check the running heads. As well as ensuring that the contents list is accurate, this provides a quick overview of the book’s structure and general content, so you know what’s coming – this may influence early proofreading decisions, potentially saving you time and angst later on.
- One idea that was suggested was to make separate passes for different kinds of error – either those specific to the project, or errors we personally know we have a tendency to overlook. These weaknesses will vary from person to person; I know I have a blind spot when it comes to subheadings, for instance. Someone else mentioned en dashes in number ranges. There will be at least as many examples are there are editors.
- We also agreed that the need for multiple readings might be dictated by the subject matter or the genre of the project. Fiction, for example, demands an in-depth understanding of plot and structure that may not be possible to grasp with a single read. Of course structure is important in a non-fiction book too, but often it will be more explicit and prescribed.
- Some editors swear by printing things out and doing a separate read-through on hard copy. Again, the decision to do this, or not, will come down to personal preference and may well be influenced by the budget.
- Most of us probably use some kind of end-of-project checklist to help us scan the text for particular things at the end of a job. This might be a standard checklist that we use for every project, or something more specific to the job (perhaps provided by the client), or a combination of the two approaches.
- Finally, we all agreed that when starting out proofreading, multiple passes are probably necessary. Any proofread or edit involves looking for a range of types of error, and it takes time to learn to pick up all the little details, while also reading for meaning. Accuracy at speed comes with practice.
Do you read more than once? And do you do a detailed read, or do you have strategies to speed things up?
Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.