19. Proofreading

Proofreading, when you’re writing, is being cautious. But when you’re a journalist, it becomes a duty. But it’s not enough just to proofread what you’ve written to make sure you’ll offer something spotless to your reader. Every author has his weaknesses, his writing formulas, or his tics. A pro will consider double proofreading as an imperative. 

Double proofreading is a virtuous duty : no copy should be published before it’s been proofread, and, if needed, corrected by somebody else than its author.

Professional proofreaders are disappearing. It’s a shame, as computer software will never replace the eye of a pro. Nowadays the newsroom must organize proofreading on its own. There’s no exception to the rule: whoever is author, be it an intern or the CEO, no article should be printed before being subjected to critical reviewing.

A supply chain mindful of copy quality has two proofreading levels : first, the place where the article is written (the column or section), and finally, where it’s approved before it’s integrated to the paper (editor in chief or proofreaders). The most coherent scheme is the one that distributes proofreading between the section editors and their deputies.

Proofreading is the ultimate added value.

Proofreading corrects grammar mistakes and typos, remedies confusions and pleonasms, rewrites blunders, and makes sure caps are properly used. For example: “Caesar solves (and not “solve”) his financial issues while Britanix makes up for the lack of tea (and not “lack in tea”) by drinking beer. Caesar is supposed (meant to) beat Britanix, but he’s got too much common sense to repeat Vercingetorix’s mistakes (and not “repeat again”). It’s not the first time the leader of the Briton has to deal with an invader. As for Cicero (and not “cicero”), he is a senator of Rome.

Proofreading makes for better copy, as it improves wobbly sentences, chases stereotypes, uses proper punctuation rules and erases writing tics. Let’s stop for example, “claiming the life of” and wondering what happens “in the wake of” or “at the end of the day”. And stop abusing parentheses and ellipses.

Proofreading improves your copy by erasing word repetitions, replacing inappropriate words by the right ones, using meaningful words instead of empty one, in a word using the whole scope of the English language to transform cliché writing into elegant storytelling. For example, “lying” is not “laying”, “there” is no “their”, “demystifying” isn’t “demythifying”, a “prodigal” son is no “prodigy”, etc.

Conclusion: the thesaurus should reside on your bed table. Double proofreading asks for the daily use of a dictionary.

Every newsroom must possess a dictionary of common nouns, a dictionary of surnames, a quotes dictionary, a synonyms dictionary, and a grammar handbook. Writers always benefit from proofreading, and accept voluntarily corrections. Proofreaders, however, should be careful not to bruise the writer’s ego : comments on mistakes should be made on a courteous tone and not a mocking one, and be made in private, or through a funny mail, not in front of the whole newsroom.

Proofreading is not distorting

Sometimes a proofreader will wonder about the content. The weakness of a testimony or of a point might lead the section chief to question the soundness of an analysis. This creates a situation that must be treated carefully, as proofreading can’t distort the writing. The corrections made to improve copy never betray neither the author’s style nor the angle. Journalism is teamwork ; cuts and corrections should be discussed and agreed upon. They’re made in agreement between the author and his chiefs. When everyone acts in good faith, changes are done without trouble. A dictatorship is counter-productive.

The added value in proofreading is constantly evolving

All languages evolve. Over the last twenty years, the Académie Française has dusted the French language many times, without alerting journalists. And the English language has changed just as much. Now you can use new words such as “Facebooking”, or say that you “tweeted” something. The Oxford English dictionary is always being updated. You can be a “screenlager”, currently “cyberslacking”. Try to work on your “bouncebackability.