The History of Proofreading

If you’ve landed here on our blog post, you’re probably already aware of how important proofreading is for your text quality – especially if you’re writing your bachelor’s or master’s thesis in a foreign language, such as English.

Proofreading adds the finishing touches to your bachelor or master “cake”.

As an English proofreading service, we spend a lot of time proofreading Bachelor’s and Master’s theses in English and we cannot stress enough the importance of native proofreaders. Proofreading your bachelor’s or master’s thesis is like putting the finishing touches on a cake that you’ve put a lot of effort into over the past weeks and months. Just as icing covers all the cracks and flaws in the cake and raises it to a whole new level, proofreading by professional proofreaders and editors polishes and perfects your English bachelor’s or master’s thesis.

The last step: proofreading

So, proofreading is the last step of any writing process, which many people find tedious – even if you decide not to use a professional proofreading service. When proofreading, you, a friend, or a professional proofreader essentially check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, which are identified and corrected. You can recognize good proofreading by the fact that the overall readability and style of your bachelor’s or master’s thesis seems smooth and improved.

Proofreading vs. editing

Before we get to the history of proofreading, have you ever wondered what the difference is between proofreading and editing? Proofreading adds a rather rough polish to your bachelor’s or master’s thesis. You can be sure that the submission will not be a full blown mess and obvious mistakes and ambiguities have been removed. Proofreading requires a lot more time, skill and professionalism from professional proofreaders, as it also involves changing and correcting content and syntax. That should be enough for now on the difference between proofreading and editing – so maybe a story for another blog!

Let’s go into the past of proofreading

The first forms of proofreading that we know of are very different from the methods we use today, dating back to the 15th century! Perhaps not surprisingly, however, proofreading is about as old as printing itself. In 1439 AD, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized letterpress printing by inventing the first movable type printer in Strasbourg. Suddenly, books could be produced quickly, cheaply, and en masse. A contract signed in 1499 AD placed the responsibility for proofreading on the author.

The complexity of proofreading

Proofreading is much more involved and complex than a simple spelling or grammar check. It involves formulating style sheets that can be unique to each text being edited. In our blog post on writing styles, we go into more detail about how the requirements for proofreading different texts vary. Additionally, there are numerous methods that can be used to proofread English texts.

Two methods of proofreading

Below we have listed two different methods of proofreading to give you a better understanding:

  • Copy Holding or Copy Reading: usually two proofreaders or editors are involved in this method. The first person literally reads the text as it appears, at a steady pace. The second proofreader follows the text and also marks discrepancies between what is read and the typesetting. This method is especially useful for standard texts, where there is a tendency to overlook seemingly minor errors. Double reading is similar to copy holding in that the responsibility for proofreading is shared by two people. It is essentially the first proofreader who uses the traditional method and then passes the text to the second person who does the same.
  • Scanning: as the name suggests, scanning is used to proofread without reading the text exactly word for word. It has only gained popularity in recent years with advances in technology and is now common with the computerization of typesetting and the popularization of word processing. While established publishers usually prefer their own proprietary typesetting systems, the average customer ends up using commercial programs like Word.

Proofreading today: Softwares simplify life, but have their limitations

The Internet is teeming with free spell checkers and softwares that automatically edit and supposedly proofread your bachelor’s or master’s thesis. This makes many things easier – for you and also for professional proofreaders who don’t have to waste their time (and your wallet) correcting obvious capitalization. Especially for students, these proofreading softwares are tempting, since it is cheaper to use them than to entrust your work to a professional proofreading service with real proofreaders and editors. However, most of these softwares end up doing no more than 10% of the required proofreading and therefore do not really compete with professional proofreading services. This is known to anyone who has dealt with the issue of editing and proofreading of bachelor’s and master’s theses in English.

Professional proofreaders replaced by technology? No way!

If you think that professional proofreaders and editors are no longer as useful as they once were, you are very much mistaken. There are too many types of errors, and no matter how much Word insists that your bachelor’s or master’s thesis is proofread, it most likely is not. Punctuation errors, misused words, repetitive words and missing words are just a few of the many common mistakes that go unnoticed on such online platforms. By the way, in another block post we, as a professional proofreading service offering editing services in Germany, clarify typical and common mistakes in English, take a look!

Professional native proofreaders have a much lower rate of false positives than software programs, because real-time experience and a human understanding, indeed a human feeling for grammatical structures will always beat an algorithm.

What the history of proofreading teaches us

The history of proofreading teaches us that new technologies have made our lives as proofreaders much easier. A large part of our work is done automatically by software programs – and we are very grateful for that. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more clear that writing is by and for people, and automatic proofreading programs cannot replace the proofreader – in the past, today, and in the future!

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