Tag Archives: Proofreading

New proofreading services listed on the website

I spend so much of my life creating content for other people’s websites that I frequently neglect my own. Weeds start to grow and I put post and page ideas on a list that is ignored for weeks and months on end. Then, one day, I get myself together and remind myself that this little corner of the interwebs is my connection to you.

The whole point is to let you know that there are problems I can solve, and when I write about them here, you become aware that you can get help with this stuff.

Basically, I’m one of those people who spots typos on menus and rages when apostrophes are added to grocers’ signs and the sides of lorries when they’re not supposed to be there. I’m not quite Lynne Truss, who stood outside a cinema with an apostrophe on a stick to correct a film title, but I’m not far off.

This is why I’m the perfect proofreader for you. I spot the stuff other people miss and, because I enjoy proofreading so much, I don’t see it as an unfortunate add-on that I have to do to subsidise writing; my enthusiasm comes across in the quality of the work that I return to you, and my prices are affordable and competitive.

If you are interested in having any work proofread, whether it’s a three-word tattoo or a 100,000-word novel, drop me a line and we can talk about what you need.

Sometimes you just need to hear something nice

I read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon a few months ago but, despite my best intentions, I keep forgetting to actually show my work. I set up a Pinterest board for the purpose but it’s sparse, to say the least.

So today, as I was designing a flyer for my proofreading services, I remembered the concept and decided to show my work on Twitter.

I was really pleased, then, to get the following tweets from a former proofreading client in response.

I really like proofreading. I know a lot of freelance writers do it just because it’s an extra skill they can offer, but they don’t really value it much. However, I thoroughly enjoy having the opportunity to fix things and improve somebody’s chances, so it’s absolutely lovely when I hear back from clients that what I did could have made a difference.

 

Podcast Episode 57: The lowdown on proofreading and editing

Like many freelance writers, I also offer proofreading services. It’s a part of my job that I love, and in this podcast episode, Lorrie and I go down and dirty into the world of proofreading and editing, looking at the difference between the two roles, how to explain to clients what you offer, and how to choose your own proofreader or editor if you need one in the course of your writing work.

Show Notes

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Transcript

PW: Hello and welcome to a Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession.

PW: Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn. Today we’re going to be talking about proofreading and editing. What they are, why they’re different and when you need to do them. We’ll be looking at offering them as services to clients, and also touching on what happens when you have work you need proofreading and editing. You might think that, because you’re a freelance writer – and possibly an editor and proof-reader – that you won’t need anyone else’s help when it comes to amending your own work. It’s not the case, though, so we’ll be talking about how to go about getting your work polished up.

Proofreading

PW: So what we’re going to look at first is the difference between proofreading and editing. They often get lumped together but they, in many circumstances, have a totally different role and involve very different skills.

LH: Absolutely – I proofread for an academic translation agency and the work I do comes after the articles have been translated and edited. There’s no way the work could be lumped together.

PW: Yes – I think the confusion comes when you’re proofreading and you suggest “edits” – it can be a linguistic issue.

LH: It’s important to know exactly what’s mean by proofreading and what’s meant by editing if for no other reason than that clients often don’t. Everyone’s definition of where the line between proofreading and editing lies can tend to vary, so it’s important to be very clear in your own mind – and with clients – about exactly where that is for you. As long as your definition fits somewhere in the generally accepted one – or near it – you should be fine.

Managing clients’ expectations is part of freelancing, no matter which services you’re offering. Verifying their expectations at the start of the project is a good way to ensure that neither party feels disappointed or ripped off with how things have gone. If you think you’re making sure all the commas and semi-colons are in the right place, but your client is hoping that you’ll turn their The Very Hungry Caterpillar into the next Tolstoy, someone’s going to get a shock.

PW: This is it. It’s important to make sure that you and your client are on the same page – if they hire you to proofread, be clear about what that means. It’s more important that you both know what you’re offering and what they’re getting rather than what you’re calling it.

LH: Quite right. If your ‘proofread’ is someone else’s ‘minor edits’, that’s fine. As long as your client knows what’s what with you, that’s fine.

Now, for the sake of this podcast, we’ve looked through some popular definitions of proofreading and editing. You might be new to freelancing, so it’s helpful to know generally what’s involved in what.
With proofreading, the aim is to check for basic errors. Think of the kind of corrections your teachers used to make on your work at school – this is basically proofreading. You need to scan for grammar, syntax and spelling mistakes. What it’s not up to you to check is the document’s success as a whole, the overall content, logical fallacies and so on. You need to look at the correctness of the text on a word-for-word basis and that’s all.

PW: Sure. You might spot a blatant factual error, or something contradictory, for instance, in which case your client will be glad you’ve pointed it out, but it’s not your main role when proofreading.

There are all sorts of documents that need proofreading. From epic novels to blog posts, any document can benefit from someone looking at it with fresh eyes and an in-depth knowledge of grammatical rules. Personally, I love proofreading. It allows me to geek out on grammar for a while, and whereas normally when I spot an errant apostrophe or a horrible typo I just have to suck it up and live with it, when I’m proofreading somebody is paying me to fix these things that really bug me. It’s brilliant!

LH: Listeners, this is totally true – Pip loves getting her teeth into a good semi-colon, as it were! So, when it comes to editing, there are two main kinds of basic editing, really – copyediting and substantive editing. When you edit a text, you’re trying to make sure it fulfils its purpose as a whole, rather than just being correct and consistent on a word-by-word basis.

PW: Exactly. Editing a non-fiction extended essay, for instance, might involve pointing out where the author has made an illogical point, or is assuming their audience will have an understanding of an obscure topic. Similarly, you might be responsible for ensuring that all the points in their argument are properly backed up with evidence, and are written convincingly. All of these things are out of the remit of the proof-reader, and are the responsibility of an editor.

Editing and proofreading

PW: In fiction editing, your job can be to tell the author where the story moves too slowly, or where there are contradictions in the text. If a character suddenly ages four years or is described as having long, flowing locks of jet black hair when they were previously introduced as a short-haired ginger dude, the editor has to spot that. Editors also have to look at the text in a wider way: does chapter 7 really contribute anything to the narrative? Is the ending convincing enough? Does it really make sense that the killer would be an evil twin sister who nobody had known about until the last chapter?

LH: This is quite vivid – I feel like you have some secret novel somewhere!

PW: And I’ve given away the evil sister! Oh no!

LH: As a literary editor, I have to advise you against the evil sister. Sorry! Now, what you’ve described there to me is more substantive editing. Copy-editing for me would be all the proofreading stuff – spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and all that, paragraphing, making sure that people’s names are the same all the way through. In terms of substantive editing, it’d be looking at the document as a whole, its narrative style, characterisation, narrative voice – that kind of thing. And then of course you get towards ghost writing.

PW: And something I know just from working closely with Lorrie, doing that kind of editing – as well as requiring all those kinds of skills – also requires an immense amount of tact. You’re not just saying to a robot “Chapter seven offers nothing”, you’re saying to someone that they might as well chop their “baby’s” arm off! It takes a lot of tact to deal sensitively and effectively, and you need to be quite brutal.

LH: Yes, it’s not about what they like, it’s about their reader, so you have to be quite harsh. I remember editing a novella for someone and about a third of it was written from the perspective of one character, then suddenly you were privy to another character’s thoughts in a way that would only be possible if the protagonist were psychic.

PW: Yes, I enjoy books written from multiple perspectives but I always think how hard that must be.

LH: Which brings us back to why it’s so important to have someone professionally proofread your work – whether that’s fiction or non-fiction. It is hard to have someone saying, “I don’t like that, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense and it needs to go.”

PW: Yes, I know that Lorrie and I have both edited each other’s work and there’s always that scary moment – if you’re the one editing it, there’s a real level of responsibility and if you’re the one being edited, it’s nerve-wracking – if you’re at the point of asking someone to edit it, you think it’s alright. Nothing we’ve handed over to one another has been awful, but it’s always scary!

LH: As Pip well knows, I received a request last week from someone asking if I’d take a look at some web content they’d written…

PW: Hahaha!

LH: Oh Pip!

PW: Sorry!

LH: So yes, this person is a very competent writer, but for whatever reason, they’d lost the plot a bit. Normally, their writing is fine but this was just a disaster.

PW: They’d tried something new and it’d gone wrong.

LH: Yes, they’d overcooked the noodles by quite a long stretch on this occasion. So I sent some very gentle feedback back to that person and made some constructive criticisms. The minute I’d sent those back, they got back in touch with me saying, “I’m so sorry – I’m so embarrassed because I’ve looked at it again and it’s terrible.”

PW: Much as that’s mortifying, I’d always rather have someone say gently to me “That page on your site is really off-tone” rather than having the content online for three months.

LH: And I said that to this person – the only way you can work out if something is a good fit is to try it on and see what people think. And I’m telling you from my perspective that I don’t think that’s a good fit for you.

PW: Yes, and if you think about it, in terms of being the one who’s being edited, much as I’d be embarrassed to have something awful on my website for three months, I’d be even more embarrassed to put a novel out there that was full of things that needed fixing. So much as it’s horrible to be edited, the alternative is to publish a book that really needs more work.

LH: And taking things back to the corporate side of things, if a client gets in touch with you for some content that they want to use to, say, attract a new contract, and you don’t proofread that properly, you can really damage that brand. And proofreading and editing are things where you absolutely have to tell the truth – sometimes there isn’t much you can do to be tactful, because there’s nothing much good about a document. So to do your job properly, you have to find a way to really tell the truth without causing more offence than you have to!
PW: There was a study a few weeks ago – and I’ll try and find the links for the show notes – and someone had asked British consumers what put them off businesses’ social media messages. The number one thing that put them off was spelling and grammar mistakes – even in the 16-25 age group, that was the second most damaging thing. And much as we think we live in a world of “text speak”, the fact is that it’s the number one off-putting point for British consumers.

I know that if I wanted to hire a business for something, and I got one brochure with a spelling mistake and one without, I’d look badly on the company with the mistake. And I thought it was just me, but it’s clearly a bigger issue than we thought.

LH: Definitely. And it’d be worth letting your clients know about that when you try to explain why editing and proofreading are both necessary. One point I want to make is that a lot of my regular clients use ‘proofreading’ and ‘editing’ interchangeably, so I just charge my hourly fee for looking at work that’s already been written.

So, now we’ve looked at the differences between proofreading and editing, we’re going to move on and look at some of the tools you can use for both of these tasks.

PW: The most used tool, I would guess, for proofreading and editing work is Microsoft Word and its Track Changes function. If you haven’t used this, it’s a way to mark up other people’s work so that they can look at each suggestion you’ve made and either approve it or not. You can also add notes alongside the text if you want to explain why you’ve made a particular change or question something.

There are other options – I know Open Office has a similar function, but in my experience, Word is used so much more often, so it makes sense to do most of your work there. A client may request that you use a certain word processor’s editing features, in which case go with that – as long as the software doesn’t cost you hundreds of pounds! – I imagine they all work in a similar way.

LH: It’s so worthwhile using Track Changes. The number of times I’ve had work back from clients that’s covered in yellow highlighter, or italics, or bold text. Track Changes isn’t optional, in my opinion, so get online and have a look online for some training materials if you’re a bit iffy.

PW: Yeah, I had to practise and play around with tracked changes for a bit because I was worried and didn’t want to mess up. But actually, it takes no time to get the hang of it and it’s brilliant. It saves you having to make changes and then note them down in another document, or an email, which is when mistakes happen.

LH: Yes, with tracked changes, you have to actively click and approve on things, so it’s impossible to miss things. That’s the good thing.

PW: Talking about software and tools, it’s also time for a warning. You can find tools that scan documents for you, for spelling and grammatical errors. Many word processors will also automatically highlight errors it spots.

And these have their place – spellcheck has saved us all many a time, I don’t doubt, but you can’t rely on these products and services to create perfect documents because they do not have the intricate understanding of grammar and punctuation that a proof-reader should have. If Word spots a glaring error, be glad it helped you out. But just because software doesn’t identify any mistakes does not mean you can do a half-hearted job at proofreading it yourself.

LH: Absolutely. So if you’re proofreading someone else’s work, you can tackle that with fresh eyes. But when you’re proofreading your own work, I think it’s fair to say you have to be doubly careful. You can think you’re proofreading but you’re actually just remembering.

PW: Yes, you think you’re reading what you wrote, but you’re actually reading what you thought you wrote.

LH: Pip recorded a solo episode – episode 19 – on this very subject. And there were all kinds of tips on how to stop mistakes slipping into your own writing, so go back and have a listen. Most of us have to proofread our own work before we send it back to clients, so do go and pick up some of those tips.

PW: Yes, some of them are really helpful, such as changing the font or font size, which makes the writing look different to when you wrote it. We’ll link to that episode in the show notes.

Now, when you’re proofreading or editing professionally, there’s always the matter of fees to consider. And it can be complicated sometimes giving the variety of work that can be encompassed.

LH: Absolutely. And with copywriting, for example, I’d never charge on a per-word fee – I might say, “OK, let’s talk set fees for blog posts of around 500 words” whereas with proofreading and editing, I’d offer a pence-per-word cost.

Now if you deliver proofreading and editing as paid services to clients, you need to bear in mind the depth of detail and the extent of amends you’re willing to go to for what kind of fee. It’s entirely normal to have differing fees for basic proofreading, basic copyediting, and substantive editing, which doesn’t just look at grammar, punctuation, syntax and vocab, but also takes into account a document’s concept and intended use, its content, the organisation, structure and style.

The Importance of Proofreading

The Importance of Proofreading (Photo credit: spaceninja)

The difference might only be a few pence per word, but scale it up to a feasible document length and see what the difference is there. Maybe even work it backwards, say, from a 1000-word document. I think your previous episode, Pip, on how to work out your fees could come in really handy here.

PW: Definitely, I’ll link to it in the show notes. In this case, like with a lot of freelance work, you essentially have a choice between charging on an hourly basis and charging per word, or per thousand words, for instance. Ultimately this is a decision between you and your client, but it’s important – as always – to make sure that you give yourself a fair deal that recognises the skills and value you are offering.

If these are new services to you, you might well get it wrong. And you’ll just have to take the hits on those underpaid projects. But always look to get yourself a fair deal. If you can get a look at the document you will be working with, this can be useful in helping you to decide on a fee.

I proofread quite a lot of CVs – or résumés, if you’re American – and sometimes they require four or five edits in total, other times there are mistakes on every single line. Because of the length of a CV it all tends to balance out and I don’t worry about it. But if you think of that in terms of a full-length novel, the amount of time your task can vary considerably depending on how much work it will involve.

So one important factor in pricing your work, especially with larger pieces of work, is how many corrections, suggestions and rewrites a piece of work will require – if you can have a look at even a short sample before you set your price, you will have a much clearer idea of the work involved and you’re less likely to find yourself angry and resentful at turning out to be paid far too little.

LH: Yes, never go into a long proofreading or editing job without at least having a look at the document. I remember a certain 65, 000 word project that I did for an EU proposal on civil engineering. I quoted a certain price and I got it horribly wrong – this thing was my nemesis and I ended up not sleeping for about a week. The document included segments by agencies in different countries, so the English in parts was dreadful and also talking about ecology and water filtration. And I really wanted a big project, particularly one with an EU connection. I lived on coffee for a week, and now I know that you should have a much closer look! We’ve all done it.

PW: Yes, we have. We all do it. We should get a certificate for the massive underpaid project award. Mine wasn’t a proofreading one, it was a writing one, and it was awful.

Now, looking at proofreading from the other side, there are times when you’ll need to hire someone to proofread for you. You might be about to self-publish a book or you might just need someone to make sure your work is up to scratch. And so it can be a small or large project but if the time comes to hire a proof-reader, there are some things to bear in mind.

LH: Absolutely. You have to be really, really careful when you’re hiring someone to proofread your work. Particularly when you’re a writer. I think this might become Lorrie’s Weekly Moaning Section. I might actually make this formal. But as I seem to be saying most episodes, I do hire other freelancers. And touch wood, most of my proof-readers have been spot on. But, I’ve hired writers who’ve sent back work riddled with grammatical, linguistic, content and factual errors. Imagine you’d written that work and sent it over to a proof-reader because you needed it spot on, but that proof-reader is a bit shoddy. You’ll end up losing a client.

PW: Absolutely. The whole point of hiring a proof-reader is that they’re going to be meticulous – that’s their job. As a professional writer, you have to make a good impression. If you can find a proof-reader who’s been recommended, that’s a good place to start.

LH: If you aren’t able to find someone who’s been recommended, I’d suggest looking around for someone who’s specifically a proof-reader, rather than someone who’s tacked it on the end of a list of skills. LinkedIn has introduced these new ‘endorsement’ things which, while they can be really handy for endorsing your genuine skills, can also allow (as has happened to me) randomers to endorse you for the weirdest things! If proofreading is the last thing in a big long list of skills that someone has, be a little aware and look for someone who’s prioritising proofreading as a skill.

Now, once you’ve found this person, you can test them. If you have a bit of spare cash, you can try them out on a smaller piece. But don’t tell them you’re testing them. As the sometimes very embittered employer of other freelancers, I know from experience that if you tell someone you’re testing them, they’ll go all out to try and impress. If you don’t let them know you’re testing them, even if it’s the first piece of work for you, people will often do a shoddy job.

PW: The other reason I’d suggest not saying, “If you do this well, I’ve got a lot more work for you.” is that freelancers hear this so often from people trying to get cheap work.

LH: Good point, and it can be quite patronising as well. At this point, I’m feeling very cross with a lot of freelancers and as though you, I and our listeners are the only decent freelancers out there. But of course it’s not the case. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt, so saying to someone, “I’d like to test your skills as a freelancer and if I am satisfied with the work, then maybe I will honour you with more.”

But, you have to protect your interests, so try the new person out on something short. And I would also say, on the understanding that you should try not to be condescending, that you should feel free to chat to the person beforehand to make sure you’re getting the right person.

PW: Yes, because proofreading can be a very stylistic thing – it’s good to find someone who’s likely to make amends in a similar way to you. Lorrie and I might proofread things and amend one thing very differently.

LH: There’s one thing that sticks in my mind – there was an occasion when one of us had a very, very naughty client who needed a telling off. Now, Pip and I got our heads together – the person with the naughty client sent the other person an email saying, “What do you think of this?”. And we worked together to come up with a response that we would both be happy to send off. But the point stands, that Pip has just made, that if only one of us had been responsible for the text, the other one perhaps wouldn’t have been satisfied in sending it off.

PW: One point I want to make is that if you’re looking for a proof-reader, you should check their websites. The number of proofreading websites I’ve come across that had loads of mistakes was unbelievable. Proofreading websites!

LH: We sat down and had a proper rant about this, didn’t we?

PW: Yes, because it angers me that these people are offering proofreading services while there are several mistakes on each page of their website. And I’m trying to be generous here but I’d accept maybe one or two…no, I wouldn’t even accept two mistakes on a proofreading website.

LH: I don’t want to send off work with one typo in it, so why would you accept it from a proof-reader?

PW: Exactly. The second point I want to make is about proofreading qualifications – some of which are worthwhile and some of which are worthless. Now, if someone mentions on their site that they have an unnamed proofreading diploma, for instance…

LH: Snap them up!

PW:…that’s probably meaningless. If they have an accredited qualification with a reputable organisation, that could work in their favour but don’t automatically go for someone just because they have a proofreading certificate if you don’t know where it’s from or what it involves. There are people with fake doctorates, so you can certainly fake a proofreading certificate. If you’re going to look for someone with a proofreading qualification, then research beforehand which of those you’re going to take seriously.

LH: Good advice. And I’d add that if you can find someone who has previous experience and testimonials. The thing with diplomas is that they don’t say anything about that person’s working style.

PW: Yeah, there are still a lot of questions to ask.

LH: So look at their qualifications if that matters to you, their testimonials, previous experience, recommendations, and build a whole picture. The point I’d finish off on is that when you decide to hire a proof-reader or editor, it’s not the time to cut costs. Hiring someone is an investment, whether for your novel or a brochure to win new business. It’s the final touch on your piece of work. If you need someone regular, maybe try and come to some kind of arrangement. But if the proof-reader isn’t happy to offer you a discount, I wouldn’t get rid of them on that basis. People expect proof-readers to be really cheap…

PW: But we experience that every day as writers, don’t we?

LH: I still think back to episode four on not working for free, and I remember that indie author trying to pay proof-readers in chocolate. And this was for a novel for which he was going to be paid.

PW: And he apparently had several successful novels published. This guy was earning money and wanted proof-readers to be satisfied to have their name listed somewhere and get some chocolate.

LH: And it’s not like he was charging 99p for a book – they were £15 each! So while it can be tempting to cut costs, you’re more than likely to regret it.

PW: Yes, it’s not something to scrimp on. So if you hire someone who’s no good because they’re cheap, then you’re wasting your money – you’re not getting the meticulous work you need. You might think you have a good deal, but you haven’t because you’ve wasted money on nothing.

LH: Of course. So hopefully this has just been a handy little insight into proofreading and editing, the differences between them, how to do them and how to get them done.

PW: And so now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week, in which Lorrie and I mention something that’s caught our eye. So Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?

LH: My recommendation this week is possibly the biggest infographic I’ve ever seen and I think it needs recommending just on that basis, even though I think they could sensibly have stretched the information out over several graphics to get more for their money.

Anyway, the infographic is 120 Marketing Tactics For Your Blog and it’s from the Business2Community website. Now, this infographic comes with a bonus intro which is Five Steps To Creating A Successful Blog, which talks about creating a blog, deciding on your audience and tone, and how to get going with the basics. But once you have, it covers all sorts – social media, content marketing, Pinterest, outreach, interaction, syndication and even design and user experience. It’s brilliant – how to make sure people visiting your site have a really good experience and don’t click away. There’s email marketing and one particularly nice section about providing naked links to your visitors. And then there’s a miscellaneous bit – it’s so useful, and when we talk about educating yourself, this is the kind of stuff you can use.

PW: This is really good – I hadn’t looked at it until now but it’s absolutely packed with useful information.

LH: And it’s not guff, either – it’s all solid stuff.

PW: And what strikes me as well is that if you have your own blog and website to promote your business, that’s great. But also, as a freelance writer who does commercial copywriting, there’s a good chance that you’ll do blog for businesses. And this kind of information can help you blog well. And you can also pick up a few tips here and suggest it to your clients – they’ll be impressed because you’re being proactive in making their blog a success.

LH: As we often mention, added value at no cost to yourself is so easy and useful. It won’t cost you anything to tell your clients that you’ve read a study or seen an article and that you’ve found out X. It makes sure you don’t have clients who look elsewhere.

PW: Well, I heartily recommend this – I’ll definitely have a proper read later on. My recommendation this week is from a site called the Columbia Journalism Review. It’s a great website – first of all if you’re a journalist, but also if you’re any kind of professional writer.

Anyway, this article is called The Art of the Interview. And interviews tend to be something I dread but enjoy when I’m doing them. But this article gives some really good tips on how to prepare for an interview and how to go about it once you’re doing it, and it’s written by someone called Ann Friedman, who’s quite well known. And although it’s aimed at journalists, you can use a lot of the advice even if you’re not a journalist. You might need to interview someone for a case study or a blog post, so it can apply to all kinds of writing.

There are so many uses for the information and it’s a well-researched and well-written article that covers a lot – it’s really worth a read.

LH: It’s surprising as you diversify how many clients will just turn around and say, “Oh, we need a case study” or “Oh, can you write us a press release” and you’ll need to just phone someone up to get the information. So you really have to know what you’re doing – once you’ve got someone on the phone, the pressure’s on. You really have to pack the questions in without machine-gunning someone’s brain.

PW: Yeah, because you want to get really good information but if you alienate someone by asking them the wrong questions or the right questions in the wrong order…One thing I learned in my first serious media interview, which was face-to-face and recorded. When I transcribed it later, I found that the interviewee would start answering a question and I would say “Mm.” in what I thought was an encouraging way, but then the interviewee would stop, and it made getting quotable sentences really difficult!

LH: Oh, so you’d chopped them with your “Mm”s!

PW: Yes! And I thought I was saying “Yes, tell me more” and that’s the kind of thing that varies from person to person, but that I’d always be aware of in future. And so, also this is the kind of thing you may do without actually thinking about it as an interview – you might just be phoning someone up and asking them about their product.

LH: Brilliant recommendation. Sourcing information verbally can be a big part of the job. We think of ourselves as writers, but you have to be a good talker as well.

PW: Yes, and pitch it just right. It’s different every time and you have to build relationships quickly. But yes, it’s something most people could improve on, so yes, that’s my recommendation this week.

LH: I’ll definitely check it out. I’m so much more comfortable communicating in writing simply because we do it so much more.

PW: Yes, I interviewed someone for an article recently – actually a friend of mine. And I was commissioned to write a piece about a particular health problem, which my friend has. And even that, I did so much preparation and research and I had to talk to her differently because I needed quotes. I had to talk to her as though she were a stranger. It’s different every time so the more hints and tips you absorb the better.

LH: Brilliant recommendation, and that brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me 57. Pip is here – she’s hale, she’s hearty and she’s back.

PW: Yes, I meant to say that at the start – thank you, Lorrie, for valiantly swapping this week’s dual episode with her solo one. I’ve been so ill with the flu’ for the last few weeks, so thank you Lorrie for stepping up – I really appreciate it.

LH: Ahh, my first public declaration. But no, seriously listeners, it was like talking to Swamp Beast on the phone – cough cough, gurgle gurgle. So yeah, it wasn’t going to work for a podcast, entertaining though it might have been! On that note, I wish all our lovely listeners a very happy week. Do go and tune in to our past episodes and subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time.

Podcast Episode 19: How to Proofread Your Own Work

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As a freelance writer, there are times when it is impractical or unrealistic to hire an external proofreader to check through everything you write. A full work of fiction or an entire book will, without question, require a professional proofreader and editor, but for 500 word articles or 700 word blog posts we need to be able to check and double-check our own writing to make sure that everything we submit is perfect.

In this solo episode, I discuss numerous tactics that can make this process much, much easier.

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Show Notes

Armando Iannucci: Comedy Writing Tips

Transcript

How to proof-read your own work

Hello and welcome to episode 19 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast that talks about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

proofreading...

proofreading… (Photo credit: monsterpants)

Tune in every week to get news, views, opinions, tips and tricks about freelance writing, and find us online at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you go to that website, you can subscribe to the podcast by RSS feed, on iTunes or on Stitcher Smart Radio. And if you do that, you’ll be the first to hear when we have a new episode out. On that page, you can also find links to our Facebook page, and also to my own social media feeds and websites, and those of my co-host Lorrie. Although, speaking of my co-host Lorrie, she’s not here today as this is a solo episode. So you’re with me, Philippa Willitts, and I’m going to be talking about proof-reading your own work.

Now, if you do an extended piece of wiritng, be it a novel, a set of short stories, a book length non-fiction text or any considerable piece of work, then don’t even try and be your own proof-reader. It’s not realistic – nobody can successfully proof-read their own work when it’s a long, decent-sized text. You need a proof-reader, and an editor, and there’s no avoiding that.

However, when you’re a freelance writer, often a lot of what you do is smaller pieces of work for clients such as articles, press releases, website copy – there are a lot of different options that it’s just not realistic to expect to hire an external proof-reader for. If you’ve written 500 words as a news story for a client, sending it off to be proof-read, then getting it back, isn’t common practice.

But, proof-reading your own work, you still face some of the same problems with smaller pieces of work as you do with longer ones – it is really hard to look at your own work with fresh eyes, and that’s absolutely necessary if you’re going to proof-read successfully. A lot of freelance writers are also proof-readers as well – I am, and I know Lorrie is too – so it might seem strange to dedicate an episode to it when we already know how to do it. But when you’re doing it on your own writing rather than on someone else’s, you really do fae some different issues. When you read your own work, you’re familiar with it, so it’s easy to skip over words and phrases without even knowing you’re doing it. It might evem be that you think you’re reading it, but you’re actually remembering it and what’s in your head is what you remember writing, which was, of course, perfect! It’s only when you look at it with fresh eyes that you realise there’s an extra comma and, for some reason, you’ve capitalised a word in the middle of a sentence.

The Importance of Proofreading

The Importance of Proofreading (Photo credit: spaceninja)

The place to start is with the spell-check in your word processor. Now, these are notoriously unreliable and they’re certainly not something you should rely on entirely. They don’t spot homophones, they don’t spot typos that are still words but not the word you intended. However, there’s no denying that looking over your work and spotting one of those red wiggly underlines can help you to see errors that you’ve made. It’s a place to start, but it’s far from the end, So, once you’ve written it, it’s important to remember that, in order to proof-read properly, writing and proof-reading are entirely different mind-sets. If you’re still writing, you can’t proof-read at the same time, and you won’t be able to proof-read properly until you’ve finished writing. Because, when you’re writing, you’re in a creative mind-set. Even if it’s non-fiction – it doesn’t have to be fiction to require creative thinking, because you’re thinking about how to word something, how to structure it, and all that kind of thing. When you’re proof-reading, you have to really zone in on the specifics. In order to do that, proof-reading and writing have to be separate events.

And, ideally, you’ll leave a long gap between writing and proof-reading – the longer the time it is since you wrote it, the likelier you are to be able to spot errors. The best scenario would be to finish a piece of work on Monday and proof-read it on Friday – you’d probably have written a lot of things in the meantime, and proof-reading it would be a lot easier than trying to do it straight after writing.

But, especially if you’re a commercial freelancer, you don’t often have the luxury of that amount of time, or being able to write something so early when you have a lot of deadlines. So, if you can proof-read it 24 hours after writing it, that’s great. But, even if you can write it in the morning and proof-read it in the afternoon, that’s still better than stopping writing and starting proof-reading instantly. You have to refocus your mind – it’s a very different skill, so separating writing and proof-reading as best as you can will only help.

Proofreading advert needs proofreading

Proofreading advert needs proofreading (Photo credit: engineroomblog)

And then you need to take as many steps as you can to view your work with fresh eyes. One really effective way to do this will be to read your work out loud. This has various benefits for your work, and the first is that it tells you if what you’ve written scans properly. Something that looks ok on the page – when you read it out loud, you might realise that you’ve got your tenses wrong, or that a certain word doesn’t really fit, or that you’ve repeated a word, or even that you’ve just got an impossibly long sentence. There are some mistakes that are easier to spot when you hear them than when you see them. And reading your work out loud is obviously a great way to do this – some people even get someone else to read their work out loud. The other main benefit of reading your work aloud is that it slows you down.

Your out-loud reading will almost certainly be slower than your…I was going to say “mind-reading” but it’s not that! Than your ‘internal’ reading in your mind. So, it helps you to not skip words and phrases that you might have overlooked if you were just reading on a screen.

Another important tip is to proof-read for one kind of error at a time. You want to spot grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and spelling mistakes. But looking for all three at the same time can distract you and mean that you miss things, so do at least three different scans of your text. The first one might be for grammar, so you go through very closely looking specifically for grammatical mistakes. Your next might be for punctuation. Some people even, if they know they have a particular problem with commas, they might do a specific read-through for commas. But yes, punctuation: did you use that colon correctly? Did you put that full stop inside or outside of the quotation marks? Then, finally, the spelling read-through. Check you’ve used the right there, they’re or their, or whether you’ve got here and hear mixed up.

Another really good tip for proof-reading your spelling is to read the text backwards! This way, you won’t miss things in an overall phrase or get distracted by reading the story rather than the words. So, go through your text backwards, and you’ll look at each word individually, out of context, and spot things you might not have seen otherwise.

To view your work with fresh eyes is the best way to get into the proof-reading mind-set. One very simple technique is to simply print it out. You’re viewing it differently than on the screen that you might have been staring at for four hours, so arm yourself with a red pen. You’d be surprised at what you spot in a print-out that you don’t see on the screen. One technique I use all the time is to change the font, and sometimes the font size.

It’s amazing how small steps like that can help you view your work differently. If you’ve spent a long time on a piece of writing, your eyes are so familiar with what it looks like that they skip over words and phrases. When you change the font, there might be fewer words on a line or more lines in a paragraph, and this helps your brain to start again, rather than reading what you think you wrote. Because that’s the key – we write for a living; we write a lot and sometimes what ends up on the screen is what we think we wrote, rather than what we actually did write.

If you come across a mistake, and you correct it, go back and re-read that sentence to check it still makes sense. Sometimes, you’ll make a correction, but then leave in the word you meant to remove or add an extra word a few words early, so when you do make a correction, start again with that paragraph and double check that you’ve corrected what you think you’ve corrected. It can be quite hard for some writers when they proof-read properly to spot the mistakes they’ve made – it can be disconcerting to see you’ve made a number of mistakes in a piece of work they thought was perfect only an hour earlier. But the fact is it’s normal to make mistakes. We might be paid for this, but we’re only human – it’s what proof-reading is for and it’s why we offer it as a service to other people. We know it’s really important and we know that someone can take loads of care with a piece of work but that errors will still slip in. The important thing is to catch it, spot it, correct it and submit as good a piece of work as you can.

OK, so now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation. My recommendation this week is a YouTube video – an interview with a guy you might have heard of, called Armando Ianucci. I first became aware of him a few years ago when he used to do comedy panel shows on Radio 4. Anyway, this YouTube video is just three or four minutes of tips on comedy writing. Comedy writing isn’t something that either Lorrie or myself really specialise in, so it’s interesting to get an insight into how that all works. So, if you go to the shownotes at http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can find a link there to this recommendation.

So, that’s the end of episode 19, and I hope you’ve got some good tips there about proof-reading your own work, and that this will help you to avoid sending something off to a client with a big fat typo in the middle of it, or a semi-colon in the wrong place, or any other freelance writer deadly sins. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


An Open Letter to @Joe_Eastwood

I saw the call via your Twitter account for proofreaders and followed the link to find out more. I found that you are looking for people to proofread 50,000 words in a week, in exchange for an advance copy of the book.

I can also see, with a quick amazon search that you are not giving away your other books for free, so if you are earning from them, it is only reasonable that you pay others for any work they do for you.

My usual proofreading rate is £8 per 1,000 words. If you wanted 50,000 words in a week I would also have to add a rush fee, but even ignoring that, the fee I would request for 50,000 words is £400. Now, unless a copy of your upcoming (unedited) book is worth £400, then you can see that carrying out this work for you is a really unfair deal. Even if it was worth that, I have bills and rent and can’t pay those with other people’s ebooks.

In the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, my co-host and I dedicated an episode to being asked to work for free, in which we discussed how being asked to work for free is not only disrespectful to our time and energy, but it also really devalues the skills we have built up over years.

I suspect you would find it insulting to be asked to write 50,000 words for free in a week. To give over all your work time, and more, to a large project for somebody else for which your renumeration would be an unedited eBook.

I don’t doubt that someone or other will come forward and offer to do this for you. However, please do consider the impact it has on professional writers and proofreaders. Is what you are doing really fair? Are you going to share the profits with the proofreaders that come forward? If you can’t pay them upfront, it seems the least you can do, yet you do not seem to be offering this.

£400 is a lot of money, and 50,000 words is a lot of proofreading. I can’t afford to do this as a favour to you, and nor should anybody else. If you want a quality proofreader, you have to actually pay for them. If, instead, you want the work of someone who is happy to do a rushed, half-hearted job just so they can see your precious words ahead of time, then don’t expect perfection, or even accuracy.

It is time to seriously consider paying people to carry out work for you. It will benefit your work considerably, and value the work of the professionals around you. You’re not a non-profit organisation – if you are happy to receive money for your work, you should be happy to pay those who contribute to your success.