I can’t count the times a prospective client has asked me for an estimate to proofread a text that really required substantive, or even developmental, editing. What does a proofreader’s job entail? According to The Bay Area Editor’s Forum editorial services guide, “A proofreader marks typeset copy word for word against a manuscript, identifies deviations for correction, and queries editorial errors.” If your intention is to improve a text before you send it to a publisher or review committee, you should be looking for copy, substantive, or developmental editing services.
Copy editors review texts carefully to find inadvertent spelling and grammar errors. They may also check to be sure that the names of people, institutions, and places are spelled correctly, that sources are correctly cited, and that numeration has been correctly applied to pages, footnotes, end notes, graphs, and charts.
A good copy editor must have strong writing skills. He or she must be able to reword a passage to correct a faulty parallelism or a break in syntax without changing the writer’s style or intentions. Copyeditors should always make an attempt to query the author about the meaning of any part of a text that is unclear to them and seek the author’s permission to make changes in the document that go beyond minor corrections of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
In addition to consulting respected authorities such as The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP, APA, or MLA style books, I create a “style sheet” for each project I undertake to ensure that terminology, punctuation, the hyphenation of words, the treatment of dates and numbers, and other elements of style are consistent throughout the document and in line with the author’s preferences or the company’s in-house style guide.