What are the Main Challenges of being an Editor and Proofreader?
We have asked an editor with multiple years of experience to answer this question, and her answer is presented below.
As a freelance based proofreader and editor who has proofread extensively, including for traditional publishers, and as an editor and/or proofreader for research papers, magazines, anthologies, and blogs, among other things, some of the issues I have encountered include the following:
Surprisingly often, writers submit work for proofreading that actually requires much more work prior to proofreading—like self-editing, re-reading, feedback focus group input, and editing at much higher levels (i.e. substantive editing, copyediting, etc.). Many beginner writers are unaware that proofreading is in fact the final phase in the writing process, and is mostly concerned with polishing content that has previously been rewritten and altered (i.e. edited) numerous times.
Writers may wish to send a manuscript to a publisher or journal (or similar entity) located in another nation. Alternatively, they are employing the style taught in the country in which they acquired their education, but have since relocated and wish to publish in their new locale. Yes, English is widely used and written/read throughout the world, but each country has its own set of spelling, punctuation, and other grammatical regulations. As a result, the writer may be employing inappropriate “rules” or even mixing up rules.
Many writers also appear unaware that style requirements (or grammar, spelling, punctuation—but also subject matter, and manuscript length) vary considerably depending on factors such as academic writing (there are numerous kinds of academic styles—and each institution has its own unique standards and requirements), journalistic style, fiction writing style (not to mention nonfiction and poetry), and many more.
Additionally, writers occasionally write an excellent article or story and are eager to send the beautifully proofread version to a journal, publisher, newspaper, or anthology, without first thoroughly examining all of the requirements, reading sample issues to understand the publisher’s topic, and then strictly adhering to those requirements. When I undertake freelance proofreading, I always inquire about the intended audience for the article and the research they have conducted. Some authors may craft a great, polished work and then send it to publications without realizing that each publisher has unique requirements and preferences—including the fact that they may want an excellent proposal first and will not accept a completed submission.
I have proofread for writers whose native language is not English. I admire them for taking on that challenge—but regardless of how carefully they self-edited or had it edited, the fact is that they frequently require the assistance of someone who specializes in working with authors for whom English is clearly not a “native” or “fluently bilingual” language. Indeed, I have had enough proofreading projects of this type, and I have ended up learning how to conduct this type of special editing, in which the objective is to create a piece that is easily understood by mainstream English readers, while still retaining the writer’s particular underlying meaning and style from paragraph to paragraph and from sentence to sentence.
Occasionally, a publisher or journal will want a proofreader who is not only adept in spotting standard proofreading errors, but also has knowledge and experience with a specific type of “voice,” specialist background knowledge, and specialized knowledge of a specific style format. For instance, I have proofread for a publisher who required the format of the research paper to be in the IEEE format. I was able to obtain that work because I have proofread numerous research papers in the IEEE format, and am very familiar with this particular format. Additionally, I make effective use of the IEEE style guide.
Occasionally, I believe that the greatest obstacle a proofreader encounters is the way many schools teach writing skills—and the nomenclature they use, conflating editing, revising, and proofreading with other critical components of the writing process. That is probably because many of those teachers are not published authors themselves and thus have a limited understanding of the processes that future writers will need to learn and apply in the real world of academic writing. I strongly advise beginning researchers and authors to first practice academic writing, then study reputable writing style guides such as APA, MLA, Chicago and IEEE, and purchase the style guides necessary for their scientific writing and academic publication ambitions. They can then study how to perform academic editing and proofreading specifically.
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