Editors and proofreaders have many responsibilities and work extremely hard to make sure that every piece of writing they touch is as perfect as it can be before it’s published. They work hard to fix everything from the smallest of typos to the most egregious errors. However, they are still human. And sometimes they make mistakes; not very often … but sometimes.
Here are the top six mistakes editors and proofreaders make, that you’ll want to avoid making yourself.
1. Not Verifying the Intended Audience
It’s important to know the intended audience for the document you are editing or proofreading. The intended audience will dictate the tone and voice of a written piece, as well as its overall syntax. And an intended audience will dictate which style guide and editorial guidelines are followed as a piece is being written, edited, and proofread. In addition, the intended audience will dictate what type of information needs to be further explained and what terms and acronyms need to be spelled out, kept abbreviated, or omitted.
Unfortunately, a lot of editors and proofreaders will start editing or proofreading a piece of writing without fully understanding its intended audience first. And this can affect the overall quality and effectiveness of a finished piece of writing. For example, a marketing email written for marketing professionals will address a different audience and require different elements in it than a marketing email addressed to an external audience of prospective customers. And a research paper intended for academics will have very different requirements than a research paper intended for industry leaders. And so on.
2. Failing to Confirm What Style Guide Is Being Used, or Using Inconsistent Style Guidelines
It’s shockingly common for editors and proofreaders to skip this step, as they tend to only edit or proofread certain pieces of writing within one or two select industries. However, editors and proofreaders who work on pieces of writing from multiple and various industries must be sure to confirm what style guide they should use, for each document that they’re editing or proofreading.
There are many rules that can be different depending on what style guide you decide to follow. For instance, some style guides demand the use of the Oxford comma while others suggest that it should be used only in certain instances. And there are different rules for comma usage and apostrophe usage, etc.
Before editing or proofreading anything, it’s imperative that you verify what style guide to use; don’t guess or simply follow the grammar rules to which you’re more partial. And it’s always important to consistently use the same style guide throughout the document that you’re editing or proofreading. You wouldn’t want to unknowingly follow the MLA Style Manual and then suddenly switch to guidelines parsed in the AP Stylebook, because this will cause confusing construction and an inconsistent flow throughout the piece.
3. Permitting Faulty Parallelism and Neglecting Sentence Construction
Sometimes editors and proofreaders focus so much on the nitty-gritty of punctuation and spelling that they forget the basics behind parallelism. Parallelism guarantees uniformity and consistency throughout a piece of writing and makes it easier to read and understand. So don’t make this mistake. And make sure that each sentence is constructed in a way that aligns well with the entire piece of writing too.
4. Forgetting to Read Written Pieces Aloud
Sometimes, when editors and proofreaders are overwhelmed with tight deadlines or large bodies of text to review, they forget to read pieces aloud. This is a mistake. When editors and proofreaders don’t read pieces aloud, they can miss homonyms and easily confused words that are much easier to identify when spoken.
In addition, proper punctuation placement is easier to determine when a piece of writing is read aloud as it’s being edited and proofread. Errors automatically made by grammar checking and spellchecking software are easier to identify when you read aloud.
5. Disregarding the Need for Both an Editor and a Proofreader
Editors and proofreaders have different roles and responsibilities when reviewing a document. So, every piece of writing should have at least one editor and one proofreader to verify that all types of errors are accounted for and fixed. Unfortunately, some editors will try to complete the work of a proofreader or vice versa, which can lead to the entire editorial process becoming lengthier and causing more errors. Read Editor or Proofreader: Who Does What? for more information, and to see why both roles are important.
6. Abandoning Breaks
Sometimes editors and proofreaders get so immersed in their work, or have such stringent deadlines, that they don’t take breaks as they work. And this can be especially problematic when they’re reviewing longer documents that are detailed and complex. Breaks are essential to evaluating the minutiae of written documents, especially in academia and industries that have complex technical language. So, when you’ve noticed that you’ve rewritten one sentence multiple times, have altered the same occurrence of punctuation in the same paragraph multiple times, etc. … it’s time to take a break. Don’t forget to take regular breaks if you want to catch every error.
What do you think? What is one mistake that you think editors and proofreaders make that wasn’t mentioned above? Share with us in the comments below.