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I’m not an author, I don’t need a proofreader

Proofreaders: they work for book publishers, read books and check them for errors, right? Well, yes and no. No-one wants to read a novel only to be distracted by scores of errors every chapter. It puts you off the story, spoils your enjoyment and you’ll probably not buy the author’s next book. So yes, proofreaders do check novels and other books before publication.

I have my favourite authors, and I suspect you do too. So it’s likely that while we don’t want to see their books littered with errors, we tolerate a few. After all, no proofread is ever absolutely perfect. We have an emotional connection to our favourite authors; we forgive them a few grammatical errors because we value them above other writers.

Now consider a commercial document. Perhaps you’re reading a bid for a contract, a job application or a public consultation. The chances are you don’t have an emotional connection to the author. In fact, what you’re reading was probably written by several different people, then re-drafted by others. As you read, you spot spelling errors, American English, misplaced punctuation, brackets opened but never closed.

What impression has the organisation that sent the document made? Are you confident they’re professional? That they’d deliver to a high standard? Or do you think that they might have a slightly shoddy approach, preferring ‘that’ll do’?

This is why I think that proofreading is even more important outside the traditional book publishing world. Without an emotional connection, we become much less forgiving and more ready to shift our professional allegiances. For the sake of a few hundred pounds, and sometimes less, a company or organisation can eliminate the vast majority of errors. The same companies that happily spend thousands on graphic design, web design and other professional services. Surely a small spend on a proofreader is money well spent?

I’d love to know what you think? Do you use proofreaders in your profession? Do you think you should? How does your company ensure its written work is as good as it can be?

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