A Spell of Proofing

December 1, 2017

proofreader_cropped“I have some free time. I get to proof!” Proofing (as we call proofreading at Distributed Proofreaders) is relaxing. I get into a flow where time and place disappear and I am just in the page — in the zone.

“What shall I proof today? The project I have been chipping away at, a page at a time, has moved on. Oh, this project that I’ve been dipping into appears to be stuck in the round. What’s stopping it? Ah, it’s a page with a lot of Greek on it. I don’t think I can leave that page better than I found it. I’ll leave it for someone else.” Perhaps I’ll post about it in the Greek Team forum.

“Look, here’s a book someone proofed up to the Table of Contents (ToC).” I enjoy proofing ToCs because they often hold a few missed errors. “See — that page number is 33, not 38. It’s a bit obscure, but since the next entry is for page 35, it’s likely 33.” I’ll leave a note.


“Ooh look, it’s one of those old-fashioned detailed ToC entries that lists out subjects covered in the chapter separated by dashes. This line starts with a dash so the dash and the word following it need to move up to the prior line. The word is followed by a dash so that needs to move up too.” I change:

porches–rocking chairs–stoops
–steps–lazy conversation–sunset


porches–rocking chairs–stoops–steps–lazy

“The post-processor is going to have fun with that!”

I’m at the bottom of the page. Let me hit WordCheck (DP’s version of spellcheck). “Hunh. I didn’t notice ‘explain’ was mis-typeset ‘explarn’. I’d better exit and add a note.”


I return to WordCheck. “Looks good.” Save and close.

“I’ve wrapped up the ToC and Illustrations pages. I’m not really interested in the content of this project. What else is available?”

“Oh, I see a novel, a Western. That should have different types of errors to seek out and find.”

I open a page. “Ugh — dialect. I’ll do just this page then find something else.” But dialect means dialogue. Dialogue often means quotation marks misplaced in the text — often mis-spaced ones or ones attached to the speaker instead of the conversation. “Yep, there’s one.”

he said,” Bring that thar hoss over hyar.”

I change that to:

he said, “Bring that thar hoss over hyar.”

Novels, juveniles, and Westerns often seem to have the worst typesetting: missing or misplaced quotation marks, missing periods at the ends of sentences, misspellings. They’re laced with dialect that at times makes reading and understanding the intended word difficult at best.

Speaking of reading: There’s proofing and there’s reading. It really helps to do both to find errors — but not at the same time. “Oh, this is really interesting.” “I didn’t know that.” “What happens next?” Sliding from proofing to reading can mean my eyes gloss over errors, unconsciously mentally fixing instances where a word is repeated, not noticing misplaced quotation marks, but still laser-focusing on typos, incorrect word usage and lack of continuity. Proofing to match letter and punctuation marks can mean I miss the typo because the letters match. These are all important errors to catch. Making separate reading passes and proofing passes as the page is open can help me find different kinds of errors. Muddling both into a single pass risks missing things.

“What? My free hour is up? How can that be? I just got started!”

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

The Typesetters, the Proofreaders, and the Scribes

February 1, 2017

scribeAt Distributed Proofreaders, we are all volunteers. We are under no time pressure to proof a certain number of pages, lines or characters. When we check out a page, we can take our careful time to complete it.

We can choose a character-dense page of mind-numbing lists of soldier’s names, ship’s crews, or index pages. We are free to select character-light pages of poetry, children’s tales or plays. Of course these come with their own challenges such as punctuation, dialogue with matching quotes or stage directions. We can pick technical manuals with footnotes, history with side notes, or  science with Latin biology names. We can switch back and forth to chip away at a tedious book interspersed with pages from a comedy or travelogue.

Every so often though, I stop and think about the original typesetters.

They didn’t get to pick their subject material, their deadline or their quota. They worked upside-down and backwards. They didn’t get to sit in their own home in their chosen desk set-up, with armchair, large screen, laptop or other comforts. Though we find errors in the texts that they set, many books contain very few of these errors. When I pause between tedious pages, I wonder how they did it.

Beyond the paycheck, what motivated them to set type on the nth day of the nnth page of a book that consisted mostly of lists, or indices? Even for text that would be more interesting to the typesetter, the thought of them having to complete a certain number of pages in a given day to meet a printing deadline is just impressive.

printing pressI know many have jobs today that require repetitive activities. But how many are so detail-oriented, with no automation, that leave a permanent record of how attentive you were vs. how much you were thinking about lunch? Maybe it was easier to review and go back and fix errors than I picture it to be. Maybe they got so they could set type automatically and be able to think of other things or converse.

When I’m proofing a challenging page, I sometimes think of that person who put those letters together for that page. I realize my task is so much easier. If I want I can stop after that page and hope some other proofer will do a page or two before I pick up that project again.  I can stop, eat dinner, and come back tomorrow to finish the page when I’m fresh.

I imagine a man standing at a workbench with his frames of letters and numbers and punctuation at one side, picking out the type one by one, hoping that the “I” box doesn’t contain a misplaced “l” or “1.” I see him possibly thinking about how much easier life is for him than it was for the medieval scribe. The scribe was working on a page for days, weeks, even months, one hand-drawn character at a time. I see the typesetter appreciating how much improved his own life is and how much more available his work makes books to his current readers. And I smile as I see him smile.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Proofing with Maps

August 8, 2015

While proofing for Distributed Proofreaders, I often find myself opening up a mapping application to locate rivers, towns, buildings, forts, streets, etc. that are mentioned, described, or central to a project.  Sometimes it’s to figure out where they are. Sometimes it’s to try and see what’s being described.


For example, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, Volume XXIII, describes some rock formations that the footnote identified as being in Dawson and Valley Counties, Montana. Using that information, I was able to view a photo of the rock formations. I’ve also found remote tiny towns that still exist in the American West — one even had a preserved historical district.

Florizel’s Folly (in progress at DP) led me to Brighton, EnglandYellowstone’s Living Geology: Earthquakes and Mountains (also in progress) to Old Faithful.

I posted in the DP forums about this and found another proofreader who was using mapping software to locate parks that were mentioned in old bird books as locations of certain birds. This person was interested in whether the parks have the same birds.

Of course, I look at maps because I love maps. So starting with a specific reference point from a book, I can get lost for half an hour or more exploring, envisioning, and virtually visiting. Anywhere. And how exciting when I get a chance to visit in person a site I’ve visited before via mapping software; for example, the Pony Express Statue in Sacramento Old Town.

If you haven’t tried this before, do! You may find yourself addicted.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

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