Proofreading as Puzzle-solving

by Camille Isaacs

Published at 2010-07-07


I get excited about proofreading. I approach a project as I would a puzzle or a game. The challenge for me is to find as many errors as possible, much as one would find the words in a word-search puzzle. I get a kick out of finding typos and spelling that is applied inconsistently. Even though I’ve taken on a variety of different roles in my publishing career (manager, production coordinator, development editor), proofreading remains one of my favourites.


In general, and here at TEC, proofreading is the last chance to catch any errors not previously caught. It’s also a chance to make sure the text has translated well when set in pages. Prior to this stage, the manuscript may only have been seen in a word processing program. Depending on the needs of your project, you may require a cold read (where the proofreader is reading the entire document with fresh eyes) or a light proofread (where the reader is merely checking the set pages against the copy edited document to ensure that all changes previously noted have been applied).


When proofing a document, I go through several passes (where I rifle through the pages from beginning to end) often checking a different element each time:

  • I ensure that the design has been applied well and to the specifications of the design sample.

  • I make sure all the page numbers (or folios) are there and on the correct recto (right) or verso (left) page.

  • Headings must be appropriately applied and accompanied by sufficient text either before or after them.

  • I ensure that there are not too many stacked hyphens (when there are successive word breaks on three or more lines), and that orphans (one or two words abandoned on a line by themselves) are appropriately accompanied.

  • Running heads must be checked against the chapter titles and against the table of contents.

  • It’s also critical to check the spelling of the author’s name one last time. You’d be surprised how often a misspelling of a name occurs.

  • This is also a good time to check the ISBN (if it’s being used).


Often when proofing, it might shock some to note that I’m not always reading, especially since it’s called proofreading. My last pass is often a cursory one, where I’m searching for a certain je n’ai sais quois. I use a rubber thumb and I skim the pages quite quickly. It is not unusual for an error to catch my eye when I’m doing this last-minute check.


The satisfaction I receive from proofreading is akin to what one feels when the difficult crossword puzzle is solved. Ahh, I did it!