Going with the flow: which way next for proofreading?

By   Hannah Bickerton 2 min read

The word ‘proofreading’ means different things to different people, and client expectations and workflow processes have never been more varied. To mark her 30 years in publishing, Melanie Thompson is setting out to investigate how proofreading is changing – and she needs your help.

These days a lot of proofreading is outsourced to freelancers or project management companies. But we freelancers work for many different clients – not just publishers, but other businesses, government bodies, individuals. And we don’t just work on books or journals. Proofreading is essential for anything that involves words on ‘paper’: from billboard ads to video captions, from annual financial statements to the ingredients on a cereal packet and, yes, from best-selling novels to esoteric and highly specialised science journal articles.

And while proofreaders are usually looking for the same sorts of errors from one project to the next – literals, layout glitches, glaring factual errors (spell the Chief Exec’s name wrong and we’re all in trouble) – there are now numerous different ways to ‘mark up’ the materials so that clients or their designers know what needs to be changed.

The thing is: do you know whether your preferred workflow is the best? Do your mark-up methods take more time than necessary, mean it’s easy to miss the obvious, or that instructions get ‘lost in translation’? And what technologies can we use – and what might be coming over the horizon – so that we can all be more efficient and deliver better end products?

These questions have been bugging me for a while. So I decided to research the topic and publish my findings, to help both clients and their suppliers learn from each other’s knowledge and experience.

I’ve called the project proofreading2020. It starts with a survey to probe proofreading techniques and preferences. Almost 200 proofreaders, project managers and publishers have already completed the survey. Would you like to take part too?

The survey is detailed, but it’s easy to skip questions that aren’t relevant to you. There are only a handful of questions (at the beginning and end) that are compulsory (just the usual demographics and privacy permissions). Beyond that, the sections cover:

  • Proofreader training and qualifications
  • Taking/making bookings and negotiating fees
  • The materials people proofread (end products and the formats they’re created in)
  • Marking up techniques (on paper, on screen, software tools etc.)
  • Collating proofs and dealing with queries
  • A bit of fun (yes, really!) and futurology


The survey is open until 7th July 2018.


Once the results are in, I’ll be following up on some key points with proofreaders and their clients. I’m very keen to talk to people who regularly commission proofreaders, to learn more about their processes and develop some good practice case studies for the book. There’s a question on that in the final section of the survey, or you can contact me direct via [email protected] if you’d like to be involved.

If all goes to plan – including a crowd-funding round with bonus benefits for individuals and corporates – the results will be published early in 2019.

Then we’ll find out: are PDFs the best or the beast, what’s the industry’s favourite proofreading symbol and will AI ever take my job?


Melanie Thompson is a freelance editor, writer, proofreader and trainer. She’s an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP and an SfEP tutor.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.