From October 2019–July 2020 I completed the Publishing Training Centre’s Essential Proofreading Course. The course aim is to take you from being an absolute beginner at proofreading to being ready to work for publishers [disclaimer: I was not an absolute beginner!]. It is an online self-study course (around 50 hours) with tutor feedback, and it has been broken down into five sections (and a short introductory section). Each section contains study notes, lots of exercises to complete and a tutor-assessed task.
The first section includes making track changes in MS Word. It underscores the difference between proofreading from a publisher’s perspective and when a student, researcher or member of the public asks for a “proofread” or “language edit”. For publishers, copyediting may be completed in MS Word, while proofreading is typically completed using PDF or paper proofs.
The second section deals with proofreading on screen with PDF proofs (using markup tools), while the third and fourth sections focus on learning the BSI proofreading symbols.
The final chapter revises the most important points (e.g. ensuring you know your hyphens from your en and em dashes) and outlines the entire publishing process. The course has since been updated to include more exercises on proofreading on PDFs and online self-publishing.
Why take the course?
I run an editorial business and most of my work is in academic and policy-related copyediting and translation. I often work with ESL academic authors across Europe, and also with packagers copyediting titles for mainstream academic publishers. While I had learned a great deal on the job, I had had little formal training in editorial work and wanted to ensure I had all bases covered and understood all aspects of the publishing process.
For this reason, I started my formal editorial training with a proofreading course, despite not intending to work as a professional proofreader. Several of the skills learnt (looking for grammar and editorial errors) are key to being a good copyeditor too – scoring highly in these categories on this course improved my confidence in my work. Besides this, the course covered a wide range of texts, from public information leaflets to academic and medical texts and fiction. As my experience has mostly been with academic texts and policy reports, these exercises improved my confidence in taking on a wider variety of editorial projects. I learnt that my skills could be applied to other fields, that I was particularly strong at spotting errors, and that I had to be careful not to make unnecessary interventions or author queries. I also learnt that I was better working on paper than on screen!
Some of the skills specific to proofreading also improved my work completed for existing clients – I am often asked to copyedit political policy papers and reports, which are then typeset and formatted, usually by a graphic designer. I am then sometimes asked to do one final check through (not a full proofread). I was able to better spot errors with layout, e.g. with rectos and versos, indented paragraphs etc. after completing this course, which meant that these final reports were more professionally presented. These may seem like small differences, but they can have an impact on whether a reader takes a text seriously or not.
I was also thrilled to get the chance to work on a fiction text, and I became aware of some other issues that emerge in fiction proofreading as compared with non-fiction texts. The feedback on the five assessments really improved the quality of my editorial work too.
Tips and recommendations
My recommendation for this course is to go slow: were I solely focused on becoming a proofreader, I would have repeated more of the exercises and perhaps used the full allotted 12 months to complete the course. Whenever I rushed a section, my marks slipped. It is worth remembering that each assessed text contains many more errors than you would expect in a regular piece of copy, and so it is worth slowing down and looking at each text several times with a fresh pair of eyes.
The course is focused on UK English language varieties and I would have liked to see a little more guidance on US/UK distinctions in the course materials (US English standards generally seem slightly more prescriptive, with numerous style guides, while UK English has taken on many structures and forms from US English language varieties), and a little more diversity of background in the texts, which I especially thought about as the Black Lives Matter protests began to have a big impact on the editorial communities I belong to.
Overall, I enjoyed the course and scored a merit. I feel this training has helped me lay a stable foundation that will boost my confidence when completing the next parts of my editorial/publishing training: the CIEP Copyediting Suite and PTC Creative Copywriting courses. The PTC and CIEP courses are also widely recognised as valuable in the publishing sector, so this will help me with finding future work with publishers. And learning the proofreading symbols was fun too!