Yes, you could proofread your own work. But you know that’s as risky as making a Muppet (specifically, Beaker) foreman of a logging camp. It could work out. But it’s far more likely to result in a meme-worthy disaster or another Muppet movie. Neither the world nor you needs more suffering.
If you understand the value of proofreading, then the next steps are finding a good proofreader and maximizing the benefits of professional proofreading. The latter is a little like getting the last bit of shampoo out of the bottle; not everybody does it, but the value adds up over time.
For the sake of clarity: The bottle is the document, not the proofreader. Please don’t squeeze or attempt to squeeze proofreaders. We will squeal, angrily.
That said, here are five ways to get the most of professional proofreading:
1. Find a good proofreader. This sounds basic enough to be offensive, but it can be a daunting task. For everyone who hasn’t huffed and puffed and skipped to number two, we’ve listed six things to look for. This is not an exhaustive list, but you can be sure that professional proofreaders will share the following core characteristics:
⇒Solid time management. They follow through on requested completion times/due dates.
⇒Higher rates. Yes, that’s right. Quality proofreaders won’t charge bottom-of-the-barrel rates. You may come across some diamonds in the rough who are looking to build their client base through low pricing. But proofreaders are worth their weight in warm leads, and if they’re good at what they do, they know their value and charge accordingly.
⇒Clear edits/communication. Enough said.
⇒A strong grasp of grammar, punctuation, spelling. Their comments will not consist of “This thingy doesn’t mesh well with other thingamabobs.” or “Delete the flying comma. I can’t remember the real name.” They don’t introduce errors to your document through their edits or in their comments.
⇒An attention to detail. They notice the small stuff, so much so that you’re left wondering whether they’re magic. (Yes. We are.)
⇒An aversion to live people. Just kidding. But sometimes, isn’t that all of us?
2. Get clear on scope. You should both know and agree on what’s included and what’s not included in a proofread before a job is started.
3. Review edits carefully. Don’t gloss over what’s been done or suggested. Don’t hit “accept all changes” and move on unless you’re in dire, time-bound straits. These are your words, after all. Make sure the edits conform to your intended meaning, that they make sense, and that all the changes work well with the style and tone you’re after.
4. Query what you don’t understand. If you don’t understand a comment, ask for clarification; if you don’t understand the grammatical rule behind any edits, look them up. We’re not the only site with helpful grammar tips in bite-sized pieces. Google is your friend, but please don’t leave us for long.
5. Implement edits in the current doc and use your new knowledge in all your future docs. A proofread isn’t just a tidying-up of the doc you submitted—it’s a miniature grammar, spelling, and punctuation course, provided you take advantage of the edits (remember, squeeze the shampoo out).
Summarize the recurrent problems that were corrected. Some examples: “I always break such-and-such rule with commas. I tend to capitalize generic nouns instead of proper nouns. I have misspelled ‘manager’ as ‘manger' 45 times in the past 39 days. I need to specifically check for that word every time I write something.”
You’ll become a better writer before you know it. In this way, you’re not just paying for the peace and mind of error-free documents now, you’re also investing in becoming a better communicator in the long run.
Care to know the signs of a bad proofreader? Proofreading Road Signs: The Good, the Bad, and the Humerus. Called a “highly scientific and casually vetted list” by at least one person who also happens to be the author.