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What are the skills required for top-quality proofreading?

Proofreading is an easy task, right? Surely, you just need to be able to read a document and check it for correct spelling and punctuation. This is a common myth about proofreading work, but in actual fact, proofreading is a much more in-depth and demanding task that it may first appear.

eSense Translations reviews the processes that proofreaders need to adopt and what skills are required to ensure a successful job.


At eSense Translations, proofreading is a daily part of our business, ensuring that work has been accurately translated and is going to be effective for the purpose required. Proofreading a translation against an original piece of work is slightly different to proofreading a standalone document, as you are comparing the two pieces of work. Throughout the rest of this article, we will be referring to proofreading a translation, however many of the skills can be applied to both processes.


Checking for accurate spelling and grammar is a main part of the proofreading process. This requires great attention to detail, a high-level of knowledge of the language used and also the ability to concentrate, sometimes for long periods of time. A proofreader will be able to spot a missed capital letter or apostrophe. They will understand when a word has been spelled incorrectly, yet not picked up by software, as it is a homophone for instance. Furthermore, a proofreader should be confident in their knowledge of the subject, for example understanding the correct usage of medical terms, including the branded medications and treatment methods.


When proofreading a document that has been translated, the work must be carefully checked against the original document, ensuring the new file mirrors the original as closely as possible, whilst still being effective in the translated language. A proofreader should check the words used and the style in which the text has been written and comment on any improvements that could be made. Word for word translations normally do not work and a translator will have to be flexible to localise the text to make it appropriate to the new audience. A proofreader will then assess this work and offer other options for word usage or style if it is felt that it could be more effective.


A document should also be checked for consistency in its use of terms and spellings. If a certain name or brand is referred to in one way, this should be used consistently throughout the document. To be successful and efficient in this process a good memory is important, so you do not need to refer back and forth within the document. This is another instance where attention to detail is paramount. This type of error may not be glaringly obvious to the reader, but a proofreader should spot it to make the document perfect.


As a proofreader, good communication skills are also necessary. You will need to liaise with the authors, translators or editors themselves or sometimes a project manager, who acts as a third party. This can be online via email or on bespoke platforms, which allow proofreaders to source their work and agree fees and timelines etc.


Most proofreading is now completed on electronic documents, so a proofreader needs to be IT literate. Gone are the days when a printed script would be handed to a proofreader, who would then scour the document with a red pen at the ready. Proofreaders are now expected to be able to work using a variety of software packages and be able to use their features to add comments for the writer.


Finally, a proofreader must be conscientious and somewhat cautious in their work. A proofreader should never be overconfident in the document they are working on, as then errors can be easily missed. A proofreader cannot afford to skim or glance through any part of the work they’re provided with, as a missed error could risk their reputation.


Proofreading is a lot more difficult task than it first may seem and requires a high level of literacy, patience and perseverance, however if you have the qualities needed the job can allow you to read up on a lot of new and interesting topics.


By Lorna Paice

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