Will you proof my document?

Microsoft has evolved over the years, but it still has much to answer for: pop-up alerts to which you inadvertently respond whilst typing in another application, installing updates just when you really need to use your PC, and let us not forget Vista.

Microsoft Office has been vastly improved in recent incarnations, not least its reviewing, markup display and tracking changes capabilities. However, Office has its own peculiarities: defaulting to English (US), auto spellcheck with entertaining results similar to SMS autocorrect, and an erroneous definition of an industry-specific term has been lazily introduced.

Specifically, the verb to proof is to run out (print using industrial printers) proofs (paper facsimilies of the final document) ready for proofreading.

Proofreading is traditionally the act of dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s, and making final but essential corrections to spelling and grammar due to misplaced words, letters and punctuation. Since the advent of digital prepress, proofreading takes place throughout the editorial process and also includes some ‘light editing’ — minor reworking where needed. Prior to proofreading, the document must be sub- and copy-edited. In the digital age, the responsibilities of the sub-editor seems to have been rolled into that of the copy-editor.

Copy-editing involves taking an overview of the submitted work and ensuring document and heading structure are consistent and sensible — i.e. aid the reader in understanding the subject. Copy-editing also corrects inconsistencies in the ‘tone’ and writing style without losing the flavour of the author’s personal expression. This stage of editorial prepress necessarily requires more intensive rewriting where the author’s text is a little confused or even garbled. Prior to copy-editing, the magnum opus must be edited.

Editing must be completed by someone with a good qualitative understanding of the underlying content of the text. This person can advise whether the work is essentially accurate, where it needs more work or in what way the central argument is weak. For a doctorial candidate, her/his supervisor(s) would fill this role.

Of course, Microsoft Office cannot perform all of these functions — however clever the spellcheck — not least if Microsoft can’t get the relevant terms right…

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