Tag Archives: proofreading

Advice for students hiring proofreaders

This morning on a popular freelancing website I spotted a listing requesting proofreading for a dissertation of approximately 100 pages, with a deadline tomorrow afternoon – allowing, at best, 30 hours in which to complete the work.

I did a few calculations and estimated that a document of that length would probably take me anything from 16 to 20 hours to proofread, depending on how good the author is with grammar and spelling. Now, you might have done a few calculations of your own and worked out that there is indeed time to complete this job – 30 hours minus 20 hours leaves 10 for sleep and meals. Not a problem, right?

And yes, it is doable, but it’s a rush job. Proofreading requires concentration. There are all sorts of things that make concentration difficult, most notably tiredness. I find that, no matter how much coffee or sleep I have had, after about hour 4 that concentration starts to slip; after hour 6 it has got to a level I can no longer rely upon. Some days it’s worse than that; on rare occasions it is better. So for a 20 hour job, I’d schedule at least 4 days, preferably 5 to give a little leeway. If the client was insistent that it was needed urgently, I could concede 3 days, but I’d also expect to be paid extra, to cover the increase in my electricity bill from all the times I’d boil my kettle in those three days.

I certainly wouldn’t accept a 20 hour job with a 30 hour deadline; while I could do it, I wouldn’t be doing my best work and I couldn’t guarantee that the manuscript I returned would be error-free.

So students, don’t do this if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. It’s possible, I’ve been there. Specifically, I’ve been the last-minute person who pulled all-nighters for about half my assignments, though I was rather better when it came to my dissertation (thankfully I believed a rumour that the university’s binding service would be overloaded around deadline day and could take three days; it was not and it took 3 minutes).

If you plan on hiring a proofreader for your thesis or dissertation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Aim to complete your dissertation at least a full week prior to the deadline. The longer the dissertation, the earlier you should finish.
  2. Engage a proofreader before you finish it, so they are lined up ready to go as soon as you finish it. Take an hour or two out a couple of days before your self-imposed deadline to get this sorted.
  3. Give your proofreader a deadline at least 48 hours before your submission deadline. This gives you time to go through and check changes and make suggested edits, it creates a buffer in case your proofreader goes over by a few hours, and it gives you time for printing and binding. Note: if printing and binding will take longer, factor the required time in as necessary. Find out well in advance how long this might take.

It’s a good idea generally to finish something as important as a dissertation well in advance anyway – to allow some leeway in case something important crops up that disrupts your studying.

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Beyond hono(u)rable travel(l)ers going to the theat(re/er): British and American English

Most of us are familiar with the most commonly seen differences between British and American English, and can recognise which side of the Atlantic an online commenter is from based on such spellings (most of the time anyway; but I won’t get into Canadian and Australian spellings here).

You’re probably already thinking about some of these differences: the inclusion or exclusion of U in words like colour/color, honour/honor and labour/labor; whether an S or a Z is used in realise/realize and analyse/analyze; whether you go shopping in the city centre or the city center, or go to the theatre or the theater. Perhaps even whether the L is singular or doubled in words like traveller/traveler and barrelling/barreling – and, conversely, skilful/skillful, enrol/enroll and instil/instill.

There are numerous sites that cover these sorts of differences. In today’s blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the less familiar rules and individual words which don’t fall into a particular rule of difference, but stand alone.

Ending with T or ED for some past-tense verbs

This is a rule that is starting to become obsolete as the ED version is starting to become dominant in Britain, in line with English in the rest of the world, but it’s worth knowing about – and worth recognising that these are valid, if less common, spellings in British English.

Words include:

  • Burnt/burned
  • Dreamt/dreamed
  • Knelt/kneeled
  • Learnt/learned
  • Leapt/leaped
  • Spelt/spelled

If you’re British, you may be familiar with the first of each pair, though both are acceptable; in American English, only the second is used. It is also worth noting that “spelt” does exist in American English too – as it is also a grain variety related to wheat.

Feel free to use these spellings in documents intended for British readers – but remember to be consistent. You don’t want to have learnt in one paragraph and learned in the next.

SC or SK

Fans of Terry Pratchett might be aware of this one: Discworld is a world located on a disc. Or on a disk, if you’re American. This is an odd one, actually, since the disc spelling is universal within the record industry, and disk is universal within the computing industry. You might have hired a disc jockey for your party, and saved the photos of said party onto your computer’s hard disk. But for general usage, such as referring simply to the flat circular shape, it’s disc on my side of the Atlantic and disk on the stars-and-stripes side.

This rather small rule extends to a few other words too. Garden snails are a variety of mollusc – when they’re in Britain. Across the pond, they’re a variety of mollusk. You might be sceptical about a snail’s ability to cross the Atlantic, unless you’re on the other side of it, where you’d be skeptical instead.

Enquiries and Inquiries, Ensuring and Insuring

In Britain if you are subject of an inquiry, you’re probably in legal trouble, but in America it might just be that someone has asked a question about you – a usage that in Britain would instead be spelled (spelt?) “enquiry”. The two meanings – the specific formal investigation and the general questioning – are encompassed by one word in America and separated into two in Britain.

Similarly, if you’re insuring something in Britain you are entering into a commercial transaction to protect your property or yourself from risk. An American insuring something might be doing the same thing – or they might simply be making sure – checking that the lights are turned off before going out, perhaps, or that a document has been properly proofread before it is sent to a client. This second meaning in British English is covered by the word “ensure”.

EY up

Paraphrase this for me: “there’s a fake wall on the fifth floor”.

You might have come up with one of these two sentences:

  • There’s a phoney wall on the fifth storey
  • There’s a phony wall on the fifth story

Or, well, it might be the sixth story or the fourth storey, given that British and American architecture counts levels within buildings differently (American: Floor 1 is the first you reach; British: Floor 1 is the first above the ground floor). Either way, the versions ending in EY are British; in just Y are American. For storey at least this British spelling distinguishes the word from that for a tale.

Silent E ending

Drawing on original French spellings, some British English words end in a double consonant and an E where the American spellings end on a single consonant only. This is to be found in words such as omelette/omelet and programme/program (though the latter is used in British English for computer programs). This is less commonly seen in gramme/gram, where the shorter spelling is now more common. Note: tonne in British spellings specifically refers to the metric tonne, while ton is used for the imperial unit; in America ton is used for both.

Individual words

Moustache is the British spelling; mustache the American.

Sulphur is British; sulfur, dropping the ph that comes from the Greek letter phi and replacing it with the more straightforward f, is American.

Aluminium with an -ium ending is British, and aligns with the endings of other elements such as calcium and potassium, but is pre-dated by the American spelling aluminum.

Following the trend in British English where different meanings of the same word sometimes get different spellings, the word for the rubber casing of a wheel is a tyre in British English, but a tire in American English.

A colour that might be formed of a mixture of black and white paint would be spelled gray in America and grey in Britain; a black tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, however, should be Earl Grey both sides of the Atlantic, as it is named after a person.

Do you have any favourite – or any that confuse or confound you? Do you prefer British of American spellings – or are some you prefer one way and some the other? Personally, I don’t think the O in a British moustache is needed, but appreciate the British spelling nuances available in written texts for words like storey, ensure and enquire. And while I’m equally comfortable with both T and ED endings for dreamt/dreamed, leapt/leaped and learnt/learned, I prefer spelled over spelt but also knelt over kneeled.

Most important, of course, is consistency. Whether American or British English is used – or indeed Canadian, which has elements of both in roughly equal measure, or Australian, which mostly follows British English with a few exceptions (like their Labor Party) – any piece of writing should stick to just one and use it throughout. We can’t have you analysing results on one page and realizing something on the next. And we certainly can’t have you drinking any Earl Gray tea.

Taking the leap

Last month I decided that crying in my car after work every day probably wasn’t healthy. So I handed in my notice. It’s now been a week since my last day at work and I’ve been trying to make a go of it as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor. I just completed my first job – a 3,000 word proofread of a warehouse logistics study.

I’ve given myself two weeks to get things up and running, before turning my attentions primarily to finding a more traditional job. The first week has been one of learning – learning how Elance works, for starters. Learning a bit about how to win jobs there. Learning that now procrastination will have a real-terms impact on my ability to earn money. Also I’ve picked up learning French again, and signed up for several FutureLearn courses (it’s interesting and who knows, maybe something I learn will inspire a story or help me win a proofreading job).

Continue reading Taking the leap

“That book should never have been published.”

Do I have the right to say “that book should never have been published”?

According to a participant in a discussion on self-publishing I’ve been involved in, I do not. After all, if I didn’t like the book, others might have.

But I don’t mean the divisive books of the world – the books I didn’t like, but others did, the Twilights and Eragons of the literary landscape. Nor do I mean the self-published books that were submitted to traditional publishers and rejected because they were “not right for us at this time” or “not marketable in the current market”, which authors decided they would go it alone with.

Continue reading “That book should never have been published.”

Self-publishing Quality

I see myself as much a reader as a writer here, if not more so. I do intend, when the time comes, to self-publish what I write; I like the advantages it offers in terms of control, royalties and swiftness of reimbursement. As such, I want to see the self-publishing industry succeed, not just for my own prospects, but because it offers a variety to readers which traditional publishing does not – it contains books which might not be “marketable” or might be “too risky” to the traditional publisher, but which actually are very good, very enjoyable books.

The problem is that self-publishing’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: its inclusivity. It means that anyone can publish – good or bad. Finished or unfinished. And that’s what I want to address today.

Continue reading Self-publishing Quality

Grammar problems

When I proofread documents, or even just reading a blog or forum post, there are certain mistakes that I come across time and time again. Some of them crop up across a variety of documents written by individuals of differing levels of familiarity with written English. Below I have collected the most egregious and the most common, and explained what is wrong about them. Continue reading Grammar problems