Why pay for proofreading?

Why pay for proofreading?

Why pay for proofreading?

That’s a fair question. Why would you pay for proofreading?

Well, I know how to use a pair of scissors, and so does my other half. But would I trust him to cut my hair, or consider doing it myself? Not in a million years! I go to a hairdresser and pay to get my hair cut because I want it done by a professional.

The same goes for proofreading. Of course you should always run spellcheck before sending or publishing anything (I do!)! And asking someone else to cast a fresh pair of eyes over your text is always a good idea. But spellcheck has its limitations and most people speed read, making assumptions and therefore missing important things.


Don’t believe me?

How many Fs are in the following sentence? You’re only supposed to count once, by the way:

Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.

How did you do? (The answer is at the bottom of this page.)

And have a look at this:




Did the error jump at you? (Again, the answer is at the bottom.) It may seem harmless enough, but let’s put it into a business context.

Let’s say you sell personalised T-shirts and want to make your customers feel appreciated. Every item you send out comes with a little T-shirt-shaped tag with the above thank you message printed on it.

Spot the error T shirt
Image credit: Mary Doggett, ETT Photography

How much damage can such a small error do? Not that much if the order is a one-off and everything goes smoothly. But let’s say this little tag goes out attached to a T-shirt that got printed back to front.

What if the customer needs 100 branded T-shirts for a company event (or several hundreds for a charity event) and ordered this one to get a feel for the quality of your product? That little mistake on the tag, combined with the misprint, now screams lack of attention to detail and is likely to cost you the balance of the order. You could be looking at a significant loss.

People are put off by poor text and ignoring that fact can be costly.


Proofreading is not a luxury, it’s an investment.


Spelling and poor grammar are not the only things that can turn people off. Presentation also plays an important part in building credibility, which is why formatting and layout are also part of a proofreader’s remit.

Remember Inspector Columbo with his shabby suit, raincoat and hair? Everyone constantly underestimates him because of his ramshackle appearance and tendency to misplace everything, when in fact he is as sharp as they come. You wouldn’t want people to write you off (no pun intended) based on the appearance of your text before they’ve even read your arguments, would you?


What does a trained proofreader check?

  • Your document is complete and in the right order.
  • Style, formatting and layout are correct, consistent and in line with your style/brand guidelines, if applicable.
  • Your text is clear and free of ambiguity.
  • Grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct and there aren’t any words missing.
  • The tone and style of your text are suited to its audience and purpose.
  • Lists are correctly numbered or alphabetised.
  • Illustrations, tables and graphs are correct, in the right place and coincide with their captions.
  • Illustrations are the right way up (you’d be surprised!).
  • Numbering sequences are correct.
  • Notes and references are correctly placed and formatted, match their cues and the cues are correctly numbered.

A proofreader also respects your voice and takes the time to understand your intent and, when necessary, explains the rationale behind a suggestion so you can make an informed decision to either accept or reject the change.


What do you gain by using a trained proofreader?

  • You know that:
            1. what you’ve written says what you meant to say (‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ is definitely not the same thing as ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’) and
            2. your message is clear and free of potentially distracting mistakes.
  • It enhances your credibility, which builds trust – first impressions (good or bad) always count.
  • It protects your reputation (a single typo can make you an object of ridicule and permanently damage your reputation).
  • It can save you money (reprints can be expensive) and/or time (if your message is unclear, people are more likely to contact you for clarification, taking up precious time that could be spent on generating income).


What can go wrong if proofreading is not done correctly?

To put it simply, it can cost you time, money, customers and even your reputation.

Even though there is a theory that it could have been the result of sabotage, one of the most famous and widely cited proofreading mistakes in history took place in 1631, when royal printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas released a thousand copies of the King James version of the Bible containing the Commandment ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’.

When the mistake was discovered (after a year!), the consequences were dire for the publishers: Robert Barker lost his reputation, both men lost their publishing licenses and had to pay a fine of £300 (or $56,500 in today’s money) and Barker eventually died in debtors’ prison.

The copies containing the error were recalled, though a few have survived and are referred to as the ‘Wicked Bible’


The ‘F’ challenge answer.

Now back to the ‘F’ challenge at the start. How many did you spot: 2,3,4,5,6 or 7? The average is 3, but the answer is 6. Check it again, and I bet you still won’t see all 6 and will have to check again (slowly). And if you get 7, well … (Credit: https://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/psychology/smart-test.html).

The T-shirt example answer.

The word ‘grate’ should be ‘great’, which a spellchecker would not flag because ‘grate’ is a legitimate word and spelled correctly – it just happens to be wrongly used in this context.

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