FAQs

What do proofreaders, editors and indexers do?
How do I know if this kind of work would suit me?
Is there much work available?
Where can I go for training as an editor or proofreader?
How and where can I train to become an indexer?
Where else might I seek career advice?

 

What do proofreaders, editors and indexers do?
The proofreader reads page proofs after edited copy comes back from the typesetter or desk-top designer. The proofreader’s job is to make sure that text, illustrations, captions, headings, etc., are properly placed and complete; to check that design specifications have been followed; to check running heads; to ensure that captions and legends match artwork; to ensure that pagination matches the Contents list; to check end-of-line breaks; to proofread preliminary pages and end matter (e.g., the index if there is one); to fix incontestable errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar that have slipped through the net during copy-editing; and to query inconsistencies.

The copy-editor reads a text to make sure, among other things, that grammar, spelling and punctuation follow standard rules and the publisher’s house style (if supplied); that the language and style are appropriate for the audience and genre; that spellings of unusual names are consistent; that the author doesn’t promise five examples and give only four; that figures in a table add up correctly; that headings and sub-headings are marked correctly for the typesetter; that inconsistencies are queried with the author or publisher; and that references to illustrations are clear enough for the typesetter to place them correctly.

The editor (who may also be the copy-editor and project manager) considers the overall structure, organisation and content of the manuscript. The editor may be asked to read a text and help decide whether it is publishable. The editorial brief may also cover substantive editing, such as re-organising the structure, suggesting the removal or addition of material, all in liaison with the author or commissioning editor.

Copy-editing, proofreading and editing are entirely different from writing skills. Anyone contemplating working in this area should take a training course first.

The indexer analyses the text of a document so that users can:

  • find information on a particular topic;
  • return to passages they remember reading;
  • scan the index to see what the document is about;
  • find out how particular themes or ideas are developed.

The indexer analyses the meaning and significance of the entire content in detail, and identifies underlying themes and concepts. The indexer then has to consider the terms the reader is most likely to use and relate them to the language chosen by the author. Indexing is usually done towards the end of the production schedule. The indexer compiles an ‘analytical’ index in order to produce the most efficient navigation tool for the text. A good index is not just a list of keywords – keyword-based retrieval systems pick out far too much information to be usable and far too little to be reliable.

 

How do I know if this kind of work would suit me?
Do you have a good standard of English (grammar, spelling, punctuation)? Could you prevent yourself altering a text just because you did not like it, or thought it was ungrammatical? The author’s style is important as well. Are you normally alert to spelling errors? You will need a dictionary, of course, but it helps to have a sense of when a word looks wrong.

A freelance worker must pay attention to meeting deadlines and managing budgets. You will be working on your own, and there will be no-one to push you. Have you adequate space and peace in which to work? An hour here or there, or frequent interruptions, will not help you to meet a publisher’s deadline.

Another aspect of lone working is that employers will generally not give you feedback on a poor job; they just won’t give you work again.

 

Is there much work available?
Someone who trains only as a proofreader may find it hard to get work at first, especially from publishers, who tend to stick with the people they know. It is possible to pick up experience from other sources – anyone who prints anything needs a proofreader, whether they think they do or not.

It is worth trying graphic design agencies, advertising agencies, auctioneers, anyone who produces printed material. A qualification in copy-editing will be more useful to a publisher, but you need to train as a proofreader first.

To get and continue to get work needs great determination and an ability to sell yourself, and it may take up to two years to earn a reasonable living.

 

Where can I go for training as an editor or proofreader?
People looking for good-quality training courses should bear in mind that the AFEPI does not recognise any particular training course, nor do we offer membership automatically to applicants who have completed a given course.

However, Publishing Ireland (www.publishingireland.com), which represents the Irish publishing industry, recognises the courses offered by The Publishing Training Centre (PTC) (www.publishingtrainingcentre.co.uk/).

 

How and where can I train to become an indexer?
Indexing is a specialised skill. It is essential to be a qualified indexer before undertaking this type of work. The Society of Indexers in the UK runs a distance-learning course (www.indexers.org.uk), and is the minimum qualification for registration with AFEPI as an associate member (indexing).

 

Where else might I seek career advice?
The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) (www.sfep.org.uk) provides information about editing/proofreading as a career.