Proofreading is a job for obsessive-compulsive perfectionists. Is there a period at the end of the sentence? Is the apostrophe in the right place? Is this word spelled correctly? Okay. I admit it. I am one—an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, that is.
I’m not known for my spelling. (Well, actually, I am, but not in a good way.) So I’m grateful for spell-check that highlights the words I need to be concerned with. Of course, if the manuscript says “there” where it should say “their” or “cloth” where it should say “clothe,” spell-check is no help.
I have always proofread my own manuscripts carefully before sending them to a publisher, but right now I am working as a freelance proofreader for a Christian publisher. That’s a whole different ballgame. When I sent my stuff off, I knew the publisher would go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Now I’m the comb!
Should this be an en-dash or an em-dash? Is it correct to put spaces before and after the dash or not? It’s not a matter of how I like it, but the rule. And those rules have changed since my eighth grade English teacher drilled them into me. The thick volume of The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition lies open on my desk along side The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (nicely organized in alphabetical order with articles on proofreading and other helpful topics). Of course, the publisher also has their own style sheet that clarifies where they vary from these standards.
I’m having trouble dealing with sentences like “Put on a shower cap or a plastic bag (not over your face, obviously!).” I know the rule about putting the period outside the parentheses unless what is inside is a complete sentence. I also know that an exclamation mark takes the place of the period at the end of the sentence. But here the exclamation mark applies to the part inside the parentheses. Does the rest of the sentence still need a period? Looks weird to me, but I still haven’t found a rule.
This is the second project I have done for this publisher—books in a series for ‘tween girls (ages 9-12, between childhood and teens). It’s full of sidebars and quizzes and bulleted lists that complicate formatting. Are all the sidebars with this title capitalized and punctuated the same way in each chapter? Is the formatting of lists consistent? Is this supposed to be indented? Centered?
And then there are the Bible verses. I look up each one to make sure it is word-perfect according to the publisher’s standard version (not the version the author and I memorized as kids this age) and that the reference is correct. (You’d be surprised how easy it is to let a typo slip into the reference and make it inaccurate.) BibleGateway.com makes this a pretty simple (but time-consuming) matter of cut and paste.
Proofreading used to be done with a red pen on printed sheets. Today it is mostly done with the Tracking Changes feature in Microsoft Word, covering the screen with dotted lines and little comment boxes. Printed sheets I could have taken out to a beach chair by the lake. Not my computer.
So today may be the second day of summer; I may live on a lake in the woods; but I’m stuck inside with a deadline staring me in the face. (Should that be semi-colons or commas? Maybe I should look it up.)
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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