Is proofreading difficult? Find out why it pays to hire a professional proofreader

There’s more to proofreading than meets the eye

Proofreading isn’t just about spotting typos; it’s a commitment to quality. A proofreader requires a meticulous eye for detail, comprehensive knowledge of grammar and style, and the ability to focus, uninterrupted for extended periods. Without it, mistakes can slip through the cracks and sting, both in terms of your reputation and wallet.

In today’s fast-paced digital age, a single error can be amplified with just a few clicks, attracting mainstream attention and causing widespread damage to your company’s reputation. Case in point: in 2011, the Australian Defence Force was left red-faced when it mistakenly issued service personnel in the Middle East with embroidered badges identifying them as belonging to the ‘Royal Australlian Navy’. As you can imagine, the headlines followed. David Johnston, the then Shadow Defence Minister, quipped, “To have a badge on their upper arm that misspells our country… it doesn’t get any worse than that.”

And, while reputation is invaluable, there’s also a very real price tag attached to these moments, particularly when it comes to printed materials. For example, our proofreaders have picked up:

  • A client once grandly announced they were “Singing the agreement” in their global sustainability report.
  • Then, there was one of the country’s most famous listed companies that labelled itself “Australain”. Even more awkward? Their annual report flashed a photo with their competitor’s logo in the background.
  • And let’s not even start on those words where doubled up or missing letters often trip people up. “Managment”, “succcess”, “facilties”, “liase”, “businessses”, “abilties”, “technincians”, and… well, the list feels endless.

What makes proofreading difficult?

If proofreading was a simple task (or, if everyone could do it), we’d live in a world free of typos or inconsistencies. But, as countless viral blunders remind us, that’s far from reality. Let’s unpack what truly makes proofreading difficult.

Lengthy documents and multiple contributors

Complex documents such as board papers, annual reports, sustainability reports, or industry updates require teamwork. While multiple contributors with various skillsets or knowledge bases will improve the content of the document, it also compounds the opportunities for errors. This is because each contributor will come with their distinct writing style and voice. Add in graphic design, and there’s yet another layer of complexity. So many opportunities for things to go wrong.

By the time a document lands on our desk at Proof Communications, it’s typically passed multiple in-house eyes. And while these reviews and digital spell-checks might catch overt errors, they’re no match for a professional’s precision. While slight inconsistencies might seem trivial, they can distract your audience from your intended message and chip away at your professionalism.

It’s time-consuming

Effective proofreading isn’t about speed; it’s about meticulous attention. The time it takes hinges on several factors, including the length of the document and quality of the content and of the graphic design.

At Proof Communications, for long, complex documents like reports, proofreading takes 8-10 pages per hour. This allows enough time for a thorough proofread which meets our very high standards. So, for a 150-page report? That’s a solid 15-18 hours, translating to 2-2.5 days. It’s an investment in time and expertise, and it’s what sets professional proofreading apart.

The demand for absolute focus

Proofreading isn’t a task you can manage with half your attention. While skimming a book or an article may give you the “gist” of it, proofreading insists on detail. It’s a deliberately slow, word-by-word process because you’re not just absorbing the information, you’re critically evaluating every component. Speed through and errors will slip right past you. This can be particularly challenging in an office environment (unless you have noise-cancelling headphones handy, or a door you can close). Think about it: when was the last time you went through a lengthy document without a call, an alert, a meeting, or just a fleeting thought pulling you away? This makes proofreading all the more difficult.

An expert in grammar and spelling

Professional proofreaders aren’t just adept; they’re language experts. A profound understanding of grammar, an expansive vocabulary, and an ability to catch even the slightest spelling deviations are just the basics in their toolkit. This depth of knowledge, unfortunately, isn’t taught in school. It’s a skill often acquired through higher education, and then practiced and perfected through real-world experiences.

The English language is incredibly complex, with a simple placement of a comma able to completely change the meaning of a sentence. Then there are its evolving nuances, colloquialisms, industry-specific jargon, and cultural nuances. And its rules? Often filled with exceptions—like the “I before E” rule that stumbles with words like “neighbour” or “weigh”.

And don’t forget the trusty homonyms, which even trip up native speakers, for example “their/there/they’re” or “two/to/too”. Mistakes like these are easy to make, and when proofreading your own work is difficult, a professional proofreader will ensure that your document is free of these common linguistic pitfalls.

Precision and thoroughness

In proofreading, everything is under the microscope. Every word, punctuation mark, and sentence structure is crucial. Proofreaders delve deep into the document, ensuring each word and phrase aligns with the intended message, context, and tone. For example, at Proof Communications we:

  • Mark-up typos, missing words, inconsistencies in headings and titles and grammatical errors
  • Query content that doesn’t make sense
  • Make sure that the table of contents matches the page numbers and that bullet points are consistent and that captions are correct.

This precision ensures that even the minutest of errors, often overlooked during multiple revisions, are caught and rectified.

Eagle eyes for inconsistencies

A proofreader needs to have a keen eye, catching every typo, grammatical hiccup, and inconsistency. These inconsistencies, whether it’s in usage of terms, titles, or acronyms, often sneak in as a result of multiple people contributing to the document or due to copy and pasting from other documents.

Take for instance, “Non-controlling Interests” in an annual report. This might be capitalised in the initial sections of the report but appear as lowercase later on. And then there’s the treatment of job titles. One page may have “director” starting with a lowercase letter, while another page elevates it to “Director”.

Other common offenders are:

  • Long-term vs. long term
  • Non-executive director / Non executive director / Non-Executive Director / Non Executive Director / Non-executive Director / Non executive Director
  • The misuse of hyphens when en dashes are appropriate. En dashes show a range of numbers, as in a sequence of dates. Examples are:
    • David Foster Wallace (1962–2008)
    • May–October
    • 25–45°C

These nuances might seem minor but they contribute massively to the document’s professionalism, which is essential for everything from reports to tender applications. A professional proofreader is a master at spotting these disparities, ensuring uniformity throughout the document.

The fresh pair of eyes

Did you know that even professional writers have proofreaders too? No matter how many times you’ve read through your documents, a proofreader will find errors that you have missed – proofreading your own work is difficult. In fact, our clients are often taken aback by the number of mark-ups our proofreaders make. Typically, we make 10 mark-ups a page. If your document has 50 pages, that’s around 500 mark-ups!

It’s not because the author of the document is a “bad writer”, it’s simply because when you’ve read the same content multiple times, or if you’re the one who wrote it, your brain tends to fill in gaps or skip over mistakes. This phenomenon is why it’s often easier to spot errors in others’ work than in our own. Just think – how many times have you reread an important email, only to spot a mistake right after you’ve hit send? It’s no surprise that the “unsend” feature is now an option in many mail platforms. As proofreaders are external to the content creation process, they bring a fresh, unbiased perspective, allowing them to spot errors that you simply can’t see yourself.

In addition, a professional proofreader brings an essential layer of objectivity. This allows them to maintain a clear focus, and not get so engrossed in the content that they overlook minor mistakes. Their detached perspective ensures that every error, from a subtle typo to a misplaced punctuation mark, is caught and corrected, irrespective of the content’s emotional or informational impact.

The fact checkers

Proofreaders don’t just look for spelling and grammatical errors. They verify factual accuracy, check for consistency in formatting, ensure adherence to style guides, verify links and references, and much more. Their goal is comprehensive: the content should be more than just error-free, it should be polished, credible, and refined.

Is a proofreader worth the investment?

Effective proofreading is a difficult, time-intensive process which requires a specialist set of skills, but it’s a crucial step which can save you costly and embarrassing mistakes and safeguard your professionalism. If you’ve already spent hours on a document, you won’t be able to proofread it effectively – and it’s not due to a lack of skill, or care. By delegating to a professional proofreader, you not only ensure the highest quality but also free valuable time which can be invested in other essential tasks. It’s not just about flawless content—it’s about peace of mind, knowing that your material mirrors the highest standards of accuracy and professionalism.

Where to go for professional proofreading?

Ensure every word is spot-on by connecting with a professional proofreader. Get in touch with Proof Communications at 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377 or Contact Us.

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