Proofreading – an analogy

During a discussion with friends on this subject we touched on why proofreading is so necessary. I love using analogy and I have created a forest analogy for this subject…

When you write a story, a report, copy for an advertisement or website or any other prose YOU are the one who KNOWS what you want to say.

Knowing what you want to say and having it planned out in your mind can be the very thing that will lead to the need for an objective review of your document by someone else – someone who specialises in being objective when viewing written work.

Doing your own copy is a bit like making a trail through the forest alone. As you press on through the undergrowth so the branches and twigs spring back behind you. By the next day, to the untrained eye, the trampled grass shows little or no trace of your passage.

The sign of course is still there and the expert tracker will be able to follow your trail with little effort. He will note broken twigs and grasses bent or twisted the wrong way. The faint boot heel imprint between two tussocks of grass. From these and other signs the track can be found.

Suppose you have walked through your patch of forest and come out at your destination but next day you find yourself at the same place as you were previously. “I have been here before”, your mind whispers, “and I can find my way through this wood again – the way I went yesterday was easy”.

Recognising a big oak you walk in under that tree and proceed through the forest. Every so often you may see a tree and think that yesterday it looked a bit different but…it is the same tree. After a while you are not so sure about your route being exactly the same as before but you know the direction is correct and eventually you emerge. You look around and see that today you have actually come out twenty metres or so to one side of where you broke out yesterday.

“That’s OK,” you think, feeling quite satisfied.

That evening you may even tell your friends that you found yourself having to traverse the wood again but you came out almost exactly where you did before, no problem.

How does this relate to proofreading? Well, on your second or third read through, those familiar trees and other landmarks you saw on subsequent traverses of the woodland, are the errors that you pick up when you re-read your text. The landmarks that you missed or that seemed different are the errors you did NOT see or recognise.

If you want to follow the EXACT route through the woods – in other words find all the errors (the elusive landmarks) – you would need the services of an expert tracker who will follow the original course. On the way he will find slightly easier routes around thorn bushes, over the odd ditch and so on.

The tracker will blaze the trail, marking it so that it can be used repeatedly and everyone will be able to follow precisely the same course in future. A trail will have been created. A finished product.


A good proofreader will not only find small errors of spelling and grammar but will suggest edits to the copy that will make it easier to read. He will follow your trail, picking up rubbish, routing around obstacles and generally making your copy look and read effortlessly.

I love writing and I enjoy proofing and editing but when I do my own writing I cannot afford the luxury of a proofreader – I rely on my wife, and a close friend who is on the other side of the world, to read my website copy when I publish it. They pull me up on errors and I have to go back and edit and, for the moment, that works for me.

This does not excuse my errors. In fact it is a bit embarrassing to have them pointed out to me. It does highlight the fact that, even though I am a proofreader, my mind tricks me into NOT seeing the detail – the real trail – but just seeing the intended outcome which is what my mind wants to see because that is what it, my mind, planned.

Your work, however, is being presented for thousands of people to read. It must persuade those many readers that YOUR product, book or other project is reflective of quality and professionalism. That your work is worth the asking price.