This is something I find myself repeating day in, day out:
The key is consistency.
There are plenty of rules that must be followed in writing, but, at the same time, there are different styles that can be adopted but which must be used consistently!
- use of single or double quotation marks
- capitalisation of headings/subheadings: title case or sentence case
- use of one spelling of a word where two are possible (judgement/judgment, benefiting/benefitting, dispatch/despatch, etc.)
- presentation of names and titles (e.g. comma or no comma, full stop or no full stop in Martin Luther King, Jr.?)
Depending on the type of document you are dealing with, there may also be recurring patterns or templates that the author consistently follows, for example in a textbook. Any repetition used by the author should also be treated consistently by the proofreader.
So, how best to ensure consistency? Even the most experienced proofreader cannot possibly contain every decision they make in their head as they work through a document – so here are a couple of helpful tips:
- Make a list – by far the most important and helpful tool for a consistent proofreader. Every decision that is made, no matter how trivial, should go down on a list which you can then refer back to throughout the rest of the work.
Personally I find it helpful to divide my list under three main headings: Common Errors (errors you have noticed the author making consistently; when correcting hundreds of instances of the same error it’s so easy to let a couple slip through the net!); Style Decisions (capitalisation and format of headings, use of bold/italics, etc.); and Language Decisions (choices of spelling and punctuation where more than one option is available). An Other heading can also be helpful for anything that may fall outside of these specific headings but is still useful to keep in mind.
- Work on one document at a time. In the real world, deadlines, interruptions and other demands may mean this is not always possible – but it is far easier to remain familiar with the style and decisions made in a piece of work if it is the only thing you’re working on. The fewer interruptions you can manage, the better.
- Use Find and Replace in Microsoft Word, or a similar tool if using other programs, when working on electronic documents. If, for example, you find that the author has used ‘judgment’ in some places and ‘judgement’ in others throughout the document, you can choose the one you want to stick with and simply Find and Replace all instances of the other spelling. (Sadly there is no shortcut like this for documents proofread on paper!)
Do you have other consistency tips that proofreaders could find useful? Please leave your contributions in the comments below!
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