A SECOND PROOFREAD IS A VIRTUOUS DUTY:
A TEXT SHOULD NEVER BE PUBLISHED BEFORE BEING PROOFREAD AND, IF NEEDED, CORRECTED BY SOMEONE OTHER THAN ITS AUTHOR.
Professional proofreaders are a dying breed. This is a real shame as computer software will never replace the eye of a chief proofreader. Nowadays, it is up to the newsroom team to organise the proofreading and correction among themselves before publication. There are no exceptions to this rule: irrespective of the author, be they an intern or the paper’s director, no article should be published before it has been critically reviewed.
A production chain that is attentive to copy quality has two proofreading levels: firstly, the place where the article was written (the section or department) and then, the place where it is validated before going to print (editor in chief or editorial office). The most logical system is one that distributes proofreading among section editors and their deputies.
PROOFREADING IS THE FINAL OPPORTUNITY TO ADD VALUE.
Proofreading corrects any grammatical mistakes and typos, rectifies any areas of confusion or pleonasms, rewrites awkward passages, makes sure capital letters are used consistently, etc. For example: “Mark Pesos solves (not solve) his financial problems while his secretary makes up for the lack of tea (and not lacking…) by drinking beer. The banker is supposed (meant to) convince the shareholders but they have too much sense to repeat the errors of the past (just repeat rather than “repeat once again”, which would be a pleonasm), etc.
Proofreading brightens up the copy by removing any poor sentences, checking punctuation rules have been applied correctly, seeking out any clichés, or erasing any tics. For example, we should stop “drawing a line”, “turning the page”, “sweeping things under the rug”, or “burying our heads in the sand”! And stop abusing parentheses and exclamation marks! And when it comes to ellipses, there are only ever three dots…
Proofreading improves the copy by removing awkward phrases and repetitions, by replacing inappropriate words with the right ones, by using meaningful words rather than empty ones, by delving deep into the wealth of our language to transform clichéd writing into elegant storytelling. For example: “discreet” is not the same as “discrete”, a “prodigal son” is by no means a “prodigy”, a “compliment” is not “complementary”, and “stationery” is rarely “stationary” in the hands of a writer.
Conclusion: every journalist needs a dictionary by their bedside. It’s a day-to-day necessity when it comes to proofreading.
A newsroom team must have unfettered access to a dictionary of common nouns, a dictionary of proper nouns, a dictionary of quotations, a thesaurus and a textbook on problems of grammar and syntax at all times. When it comes to use of language, the Oxford English Dictionary website contains a large range of examples of how words are used in English.
Writers always benefit professionally from revisions, and voluntarily accept corrections. Proofreaders, however, should always bear in mind a writer’s sensitivity or ego: comments on errors should be made courteously, without mocking, and in private, face to face.
PROOFREADING IS NOT REINTERPRETING.
There may, of course, be cases when the proofreader has queries about the content, rather than just form. The weakness of a witness account or a specific point may lead an editor in chief to question the merits of an analysis or interpretetion. This leads to a delicate situation that must be handled with care; after all, proofreading is not about reinterpreting the writer’s work. The touches made to improve a text should never distort the sense of the text or the writer’s style. As journalism is a team effort, cuts and rewrites should be discussed and coordinated. They should be agreed between the writers and their bosses.
If everyone acts in good faith, the amendment process runs smoothly. Changes dictated from above are never productive.
THE ADDED VALUE OF PROOFREADING IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING…
All languages evolve. Over the last 20 years, the English language has changed in many ways. And as English is a descriptive language, there are no alerts or notifications of these changes. A good journalist, however, seeks out and follows these trends. And learns to make the most of them!