THE EDITORIAL BOOK ARTS
ARTICLES ON THIS PAGE:PRELIMINARY NOTES ON PROOFREADING posted: 9/23/16
THE COMMANDMENTS OF PROOFREADING updated: 11/26/17; posted: 12/21/16
READING ABOUT PROOFREADING posted: 9/23/16
MEMOIR: PROOFREADERS ARE PAID TO NOTICE THINGS posted: 11/7/16
ARTICLES ON SEPARATE PAGES:(none yet)
PRELIMINARY NOTES ON PROOFREADINGA vital, and generally neglected aspect of book production is proofreading. There is a good deal more to it than non-professionals think. To do it even adequately requires some training, and a professional knowledge of proofreading involves some specialized skills and knowledge in addition to a knowledge of editorial style.
The extensive and detailed set of conventions used by professional proofreaders may seem pedantic and arbitrary to outsiders. However, readings in the history of the craft will show that these conventions, and the associated procedures, have been remarkably consistent over the centuries, and that they are dictated by the necessities of producing texts. Most of these necessities pertain to the general nature of written texts, and thus are rarely altered by changes in technology. If a professional proofreader from the last hundred years were to be transported back several centuries to a shop or publishing house in Western Europe or America, he would find the procedures and proofreaders’s marks generally quite familiar, and would have little trouble settling into his next job. (Once he has stolen some clothes suitable to the time, he would probably have little trouble getting hired.) Some of the proofreader’s marks date from a time when proofreaders communicated with their colleagues in Latin. Fossilized as easily-learned symbols independent of language, they are as practical today as any alternative, and are already established as a means of communication.
THE COMMANDMENTS OF PROOFREADINGFor behold, a Spirit did appear unto me in the night at the corner of 6th Avenue and 23rd Street, there in the midst of the type shops whose work is the work of the night, even there by the station of the F train that runneth to Brooklyn. And the Spirit spake these commandments:
• Be expert in thy craft, lest thou fail in these commandments. For the proofreader standeth alone, and crosseth every man: he must ever persuade or submit; his only hope is in the truth, and the hands of all men shall be against the unrighteous proofreader.
• Thou shalt not bluff, neither shalt thou bear false witness, for thine enemies shall surely bring thee down therefor.
• Thou shalt ever learn from those who know any thing that shall aid thee in thy craft. Nor shalt thou, for the sake of momentary ease, learn aught from those who know not. For the righteous proofreader loveth the truth, and welcometh it whencesoever it come, and he hateth falsehood, and embraceth it not, even if it come from his boss. But the unrighteous proofreader knoweth not truth from falsehood, and must therefore hate all correction; and he learneth only from the expediency of the moment, and shall suffer when the moment hath passed.
• Thou shalt know all the several standards by which every type of work must be judged, and apply to each job the appropriate standard. For to do otherwise is to bluff, and to be false, and to be a burden to all about thee; and to avert their vengeance thou shalt be forced to relax whatever standards thou knowest. But if a proofreader know with exactness the rightful standard for each work, he may apply that standard with a sword of fire, and be safe amid the flames.
• Thou shalt mark first, and ask questions later, lest an error be overlooked.
• Thou shalt follow up every question.
• Thou shalt not put thy personality into a second read: question not the judgment of one who hath read before thee, but only his oversights. For all proofreaders know that no proofreader batteth a thousand, and know also that each work of a proofreader is one whole so that, where the parts fit truly together, no other proofreader disturbeth that work without error.
• Thou shalt defer to none unless he write down his own orders clearly enough for any to follow without question, and also sign his name thereto, and suffer alone for his errors. For thou art damned if thou dost, and damned if thou dost not. Therefore do as it damned well pleaseth thee according to thine own judgment, and vary not thy judgment for any expediency, and so men shall fear thy judgment and not thou theirs, and thine arse shall be saved in the long run.
And verily, this sort of thing happeneth often to those who stagger out into the darkness from the dens of typography.
READING ABOUT PROOFREADINGIn the Editing and Proofreading section of the Reading page, you will find a listing and brief account of an excellent and recent practical manual devoted entirely to proofreading, though it is not comprehensive as regards typographic proofreading: Anderson, Laura. McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook. 2nd ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
Many of the historical books and practical manuals listed on the Reading page (especially De Vinne) will have practical information on typographic proofreading at various stages of the history of printing—much of which is still relevant.
HISTORY OF PROOFREADINGFor those getting deeply into the history and evolution of editorial practice, a few important and interesting notes on proofreading in the Greek, Roman, and medieval periods (mentioned here since such information is rarely findable in one place), along with much on editorial practice, which back them was not distinguished from scholarly practice:
Cameron, Alan. The Last Pagans of Rome. Oxford U.P.: 2011. Pages 441–45 (related material in surrounding sections; the pages are few but Cameron is succint and meaty). This book is described more fully on the Reading page.
Two other books bearing on aspects of proofreading history that are of critical importance in other fields:
Hinman, Charlton. The Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
Proofreading involves a very specific type of alertness, with its own accompanying skills.