The joys of proofreading

As I mentioned in my previous post, recently I have been immersed in correcting the proofs of my new book and creating an index for it. A few days ago I finished proofreading and emailed back the corrected proofs. The index is basically done but I want to hold onto it a little longer just in case I think of some improvements.

It occurred to me that some aspects of the proofreading process might be interesting to my readers. Those of you who have published a book yourself may find some points in common. Otherwise, you might be surprised at how many different types of problems can crop up along the road to publication. Leaving aside gory details having to do entirely with formatting, such as subsections accidentally being promoted to sections and vice versa, I made a total of 166 corrections to the proofs.

Proofreading is the fifth stage in book production. In my particular case,

  1. I submitted my original manuscript in Microsoft Word, with one file per chapter.
  2. The publisher’s copy editing team edited each file, making comments using Word’s tracking functionality.
  3. I reviewed the edits; my job was to accept, reject, or comment on each one.
  4. Taking into account this review, the publisher produced a typeset version of the entire book in a single PDF file.
  5. I read the proofs and entered my comments in the PDF, using Adobe’s commenting functionality. (I also made a complete printout to work from, but found that the online version was easier to study closely. However, I used it when creating the index.)
  6. I will supply said index.
  7. The publisher will correct the proofs based on step #5 and add the index.
  8. Publication!

Of my 166 corrections, only four of were “do or die.” That is, I can’t imagine the book being published with these errors uncorrected. The first two were essentially “slips of the tongue” on my part — one in English and one in Spanish — that led to nonsensical text. I’m horrified that I made these goofs in the first place, and surprised that they made it as far as the proofs. (As my late sister used to say, “There’s a reason why they included the word mistake in the dictionary.”) The third was a doozy of a typesetting error, and the fourth was a genuine content error. Chances are nobody but me would ever had noticed it, but I had to make it right as a matter of academic integrity.

ErrorWhat happened?
“Most Latin Americans use the two singular pronouns and usted and the plural pronoun vosotros.”I meant ustedes, not vosotros.
La “a personal”, una estructura que evita mencionar la persona que causó un accidente, también afecta el pensamiento.I meant “se accidental,” not “a personal.”
“Real Academia feminine”The copy editor changed my original Española to Español, which I requested they change back to the feminine form Española. Guess I shouldn’t have used the word “feminine.”
“Of the sixty-three other languages Dahl surveyed, only Kikuyu, a Bantu language of Africa with seven major TMA categories, surpassed Spanish.”Having reread my original source, I now see that Catalan also has more major past tenses than Spanish, as shown below, though Spanish is still an outlier. Fortunately I was able to fix this easily, by adding the 2 words “Catalan and.”
Catalan and Spanish both have imperfect, simple past, present perfect, acabar de immediate past, progressive, and pluperfect. But Catalan also uses the verb anar ‘to go’ to make a periphrastic past tense (instead of a future). Based on Osten Dahl (1985), Tense and aspect systems, pp. 170-71.

A few dozen corrections had to do with typesetting conventions for talking about language. These corrections fixed errors that for the most part, were not present in my original manuscript, but were introduced during copy editing and typesetting.

  • Italics were a real nuisance. In linguistics, as in normal typesetting, we use italics to indicate words that are being talked about rather than being used for their own meaning, whether in another language, as in “My favorite Spanish word is disfrutar” (which happens to be true), or in the text’s own language, as in “My favorite English word is salmon” (I just made that up). If a block of text is itself in italics, a word referred to should be in plain roman, as in “The many descendants of Latin ille.” I corrected 29 cases of italics that should have been roman or vice versa, mostly in the book’s headings and subheadings.
  • It’s a linguistic convention to indicate suffixes with a hyphen (e.g. -zco verbs) and likewise to enclose meanings between single quotes (e.g. Latin ille ‘that’), not double quotes. After step #3 above (copy editing) I caught many missing hyphens, and instances of double quotes instead of singles, but a handful remained. In general these errors were not present in the manuscript, but were introduced during copy editing or typesetting.

I made a few dozen corrections to the Spanish in the book. These fell into five categories:

  1. The Oxford comma, as in the second comma in I like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Spanish doesn’t use the Oxford comma, but I’m addicted to it, so this is a hard error for me to avoid. I removed several such commas in step #3 but found twenty (!!) more to remove in the proofs. I hope this has cured me from making the same mistake in the future.
  2. Accent marks. I’m glad to say I did a decent job catching my own accent mark mistakes earlier in the publishing process, but I found two more in the proofs: the missing accents on rincón and one instance of yeísmo. All the other occurrences of yeísmo or yeísta in the book had their proper accents, so I don’t know how I missed this one.
  3. Punctuation. For some strange reason, punctuation such as commas and periods precedes quotation marks in English, as in “I love you,” he said. Spanish is more sensible, putting such punctuation after the speech being quoted, as in “Te amo”, me dijo. I found and corrected one or two instances of English-style punctuation in the page proofs. (My fault.)
  4. Hyphenation. Routledge hyphenated the book as part of the typesetting process. Since Spanish syllabification is one topic I explored in the book, I was amused to find four Spanish words that were incorrectly hyphenated. Obviously Routledge’s software wasn’t programmed for Spanish syllables. The problematic hyphenations were:
    1. pensam-iento (the syllables are
    2. pert-enecer (the syllables are
    3. ust-edes (the syllables are us.te.des)
    4. nu-era (the syllables are nue.ra)
  5. Other mistakes. My Spanish will never be perfect! I caught some missing prepositions, as in el uso DE los signos invertidos and diferenciaban ENTRE sujetos, and a couple of gender errors.

My English is better than my Spanish, but that didn’t stop me from making some mistakes in my own language, such as dropping the the in during the activity, or forgetting the closing comma in an appositive clause (“The teacher first identifies an interesting text, such as a recent article in the Catalan edition of El País ( [missing comma here] and reads the first few paragraphs”). Some errors were introduced during typesetting, such as dropping another the in the book’s introduction (“for (the) Chapter 4 in-class activity”). I hope I found (and fixed) all of these.

I tried to clear up inconsistencies, from the spelling of descendants to the capitalization of WebQuest to the uniform use of English terms for places (Cadiz, not Cádiz; Basque Country, not País Vasco) and languages (Mozarabic, not mozárabe).

Finally, I made about two dozen “corrections” that were really improvements, both in punctuation and in wording.

3 thoughts on “The joys of proofreading

  1. Susan Ranft

    This was very interesting, ¡and important! (Don’t you ever wish we had that little inverted question mark in English?) I am always surprised when I find typos in books I read. It is distracting and it looks sloppy. And I’m talking about novels. In a book like yours, I can see where it would be so incredibly difficult to find all the errors that might have been made. In the rare chance that an error may still slip through (and the even rarer chance that the reader will find it), I’m sure your fans will be very forgiving! I’m looking so very forward to this new publication of yours!

    1. Susan Ranft

      Oops! I think I made that error just to make you feel better! I have no doubt you caught it right away, as did I as soon as I hit ‘send’!


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