Event review: Advanced Proofreading with Ruth Wilson

Written by Roma Ilnyckyj; copy edited by Karen Marshall

Review of seminar Advanced Proofreading with Ruth Wilson (offered by EAC-BC on September 20, 2014)

Ruth Wilson’s advanced proofreading workshop was exactly what I had expected: fun, loaded with information, and the quickest six hours you could hope for when you’re indoors and just steps from the Seawall on a sunny late-September day (see photo). As an editor who is not quite a beginner but also not sitting on years of experience, I found this workshop a perfect match for my needs. Although you can’t become an advanced proofreader in one day, this seminar taught me three things that I can actively work on in my quest to become one.

Know the difference between proofreading and reading
Okay, this is a fairly basic lesson that most proofreaders learn early on, but I loved the way that Ruth illustrated it, telling us about a time when she was so caught up in the content of a book that she missed several errors. She suggested that if you are really interested in the text you’re proofreading, you should read the document for fun. “Take it home and get it out of your system,” she said. Read first; proofread after. You’ll find it difficult to do both at the same time.

Get diverse experience
EAC editorial standards emphasize that editors should have broad-based experience. I’ve often wondered how realistic this is because I know that a lot of editors either choose, or simply end up working their entire careers in the same industry and become experts at specific types of documents. And isn’t that a good thing?

Ruth structured the workshop around five exercises, each one using a different type of document and highlighting a specific proofreading principle or set of skills. Two of the exercises dealt with documents I never work with: magazines and recipes. I wasn’t surprised that we went over the basics of what kind of things to look for in these documents. But I was surprised that once we got to material I’m more comfortable proofreading (in this case, a scholarly article), I found that my eye was sharper and I was looking at the article in a new light. My takeaway from working with different documents at Ruth’s seminar is that if you generally work with the same types of documents in your job, practising with different ones might be the most valuable professional development you can do.

Recognize your boundaries
I wasn’t expecting to go into fact-checking, since this is usually not a proofreader’s job. But Ruth gave us a list of sentences that all contained factual errors, including historical inaccuracies and spelling mistakes. We discussed each error using a scale of “should have marked,” “should have queried,” “nice to know but not my problem,” and “leave alone.” It seemed straightforward when we started out, but I think many of us were surprised by the number of errors we marked “nice to know but not my problem.”

This scale—which I’m going to start using in my work—highlighted one of the biggest mistakes that new proofreaders make: doing too much. Sometimes it’s hard to know where something might fall on that scale, but I think that was the point of the exercise; knowing how to apply the scale is one of the key things that make an advanced proofreader.

Perk: networking!
EAC tried out a new venue and format for this seminar, and I think it was a great change. To encourage networking, we were served lunch in the room, and everyone ate together. It was nice to not run around looking for food, and doubly nice to meet some new people. I definitely benefited from this new format. I shared my opinion of The Luminaries with some people who were actually interested, talked about the book publishing industry, and grilled someone who has passed three of the EAC certification exams.

Thank you to Ruth for being so generous with her knowledge, and to EAC-BC for facilitating!

Roma Ilnyckyj is an associate editor at Talk Science to Me and a lover of language, books, travel, and tai chi.

Karen Marshall is a recent graduate of SFU’s Editing Certificate program.

Image by Roma Ilnyckyj

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