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The importance of proofreading

Updated on April 20, 2015

Get it right!

Getting it right is really important. A single comma out of place could make the difference between life and death.

You don't believe me? Alexander III, Tsar of Russia, was rather fond of sending dissidents to Siberia and an almost certain death in the salt mines. His wife, Maria Feodorovna, tended to a more liberal view. Thus, when she saw that her husband had written a note against a prisoner's name that read:

Pardon impossible, to send to Siberia

she scratched out the comma and placed it elsewhere, so that it now read:

Pardon, impossible to send to Siberia

and thus a very surprised opponent of the Tsar found himself given a new lease of life, through a simple change in punctuation.

An example of proofread and edited text


A test for you

It is very easy to make silly mistakes when typing away at the keyboard, but not always so easy to spot them afterwards. Here's a little test for you. Can you spot all the typos in the following passage?

And yet he did care somethinng for the streets that environed that hopse, and for the senseless stones that made there pavements. many aa night he vaguely and unhappily wondered there, when whine had bought no transitory gladness too him; Many a dreary daybreak reveeled his solitary figure lingering/ there, and still lingering there when the first beams the sun brought into strong relief, removed beauties of architeture in spires of churches and lofty biuldings, as prhaps the quiet time brought same sense o better things, elsie forgoten and unattaiinable, into his mind.

(From Chapter 13 of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens)

Did you get all 30? OK, I'm only joking, there were only supposed to be 20! If you check against the correct version, at the end of this hub, you can see for yourself where the mistakes have occurred.

Some proofreading tips

Some mistakes can be caught by a spell-checker, but other cannot, because the mistake creates another word that in other contexts would be correct. There are several examples in this passage. There are mistakes of extra characters being put in, and of others being left out. There are mistakes of punctuation, and of letters being lower-case when they should be upper-case, and vice versa. There are also places where the text is actually correct, but you may have thought otherwise!

When you have written something, it is always a good idea to read it through very carefully before you do anything with it, such as publishing it on Hubpages! If it is something that is particularly important, such as a college essay or a letter to your taxman, it is even better if you let someone else check it for you. This is because you never read your own writing in the same way that you read someone else's. You will always read your own words in the way that you thought you wrote them, but another person may well read them differently.

I have proofread many pieces of text, quite often for people for whom English is their second language. Sometimes the words in front of me would seem completely baffling, until it suddenly dawned that a vital word has been left out! There are also many times when the words are ambiguous - they could mean various things, depending on how you read them. In these cases I usually suggest various readings to the author, so that they can make the choice.

Did you pass the test?

Oh, and here is that passage exactly as Dickens wrote it:

And yet he did care something for the streets that environed that house, and for the senseless stones that made their pavements. Many a night he vaguely and unhappily wandered there, when wine had brought no transitory gladness to him; many a dreary daybreak revealed his solitary figure lingering there, and still lingering there when the first beams of the sun brought into strong relief, removed beauties of architecture in spires of churches and lofty buildings, as perhaps the quiet time brought some sense of better things, else forgotten and unattainable, into his mind.


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    • Under The Lamp profile image

      Under The Lamp 

      7 years ago

      You, The Indexer, shown me how my work can benefit from clarity. Thank you for contributing this useful hub.

    • profile image

      Writing Professional 

      7 years ago

      Once the proofs for your book, both text and cover, arrive, you will have already had your book read and re-read and proofread and hopefully edited and proofread by an editor.

    • The Indexer profile imageAUTHOR

      John Welford 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thesis Help,

      Proofreading is the simple business of correcting mistakes, but editing takes things further and offers improvements to style, wording, etc. I suppose the meeting point can be seen clearly in a case like:

      "When, six months later, her son's death came to her, she bore it well and ..."

      There are no actual typos in those words, but there is something wrong with the phrasing, and a careful piece of editing would produce:

      "When, six months later, she received news of her son's death, she bore it well and ..."

      I do a lot of work for overseas students and "wrong way" translators (as I assume, from your moniker, you do too) and, although I am usually asked to do proofreading, it is really copy-editing that is being offered.

      Of course, there is also the type of proofreading that requires the comparison of two texts, letter by letter, as would be done prior to a book or journal being printed. But that sounds boring to me!

    • profile image

      Thesis Help 

      9 years ago

      What, in your experience, is the difference between editing and proofreading? How do you see them overlapping with each other?

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      10 years ago from NSW, Australia

      very interesting. . .

    • Rajan Kathiroo profile image

      Rajan Kathiroo 

      10 years ago from UAE


      Welcome to my fan club




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