Proofreading or editing?

Proofreading generally means re-reading a text for a specific purpose. For an author, prior to publication of a text, it can serve to pinpoint potential errors. Once a text is published, a reader too might re-read it, not with a proofreader’s eye, but simply for a greater appreciation of how the plot is constructed and how it leads to the final twist that came as a surprise first time round.

Things are not quite the same in the world of translation: once a text in the source language has been rendered in the target language, the first job is to edit it, with proof-reading coming at the final stage of the process.

Unlike proofreading, editing consists of examining and reworking the text from a stylistic and linguistic point of view. It is not just a matter of correcting mistakes, but of improving the text in depth. Making the text intelligible to the reader is at the heart of the exercise. Sentences which are complex and difficult to understand and passages which are overly familiar are reworded. Repetitions are removed, and missing links introduced. Additions may be made to the text and paragraphs re-arranged as required.

Unlike editing, proofreading generally involves nothing other than checking spelling, grammar and typography during the final reading of a text. Where the proofreader amends a text, he/she must ensure that this has no impact on its meaning.

This exercise is carried out on the final version of a text, prior to printing for example. If the final version is reworked before printing, what is termed a press proof is issued. To ensure nothing is overlooked, proofreading is conducted on the basis of the ‘four-eyes’ principle, meaning that two people work in tandem on proofreading the same text.

Proofreaders check the following points :

  • spelling,
  • grammar,
  • punctuation,
  • consistency of formating,
  • correct hyphenation and
  • typography (inverted commas, apostrophes, hyphens and dashes, paragraph spacing, etc.).

Philippe Golay