For years, we've had the privilege of working with hundreds of authors—from published novelists and textbook writers to college and high-school students. And, when you're a freelance proofreader hanging your shingle on the Web, let's be honest: You see a very wide quality of writing.
Some documents require only slight modifications because the author started with a solid grasp of the fundamentals. In most instances, though, writers come to us with text that requires a little more intervention. And that's fine—after all, that's why we started this practice. For those projects, we happily stray a little deeper and offer some light copyediting suggestions.
And that's when a key philosophical issue emerges: How much is too much? When do proofreading and copyediting changes cross the line into full-blown co-authorship? It's a delicate question and there's no definitive, consistent answer. In the early days of MTV, Mick Jagger famously told us that "Too much is never enough," but most writers—and their editors and proofreaders—would be awfully reluctant to embrace that credo.
In fact, we take the opposite position. As a proofreader, we start with a little bit o' Hippocrates: "First, do no harm." Naturally, in all documents, accuracy and precision must take precedence. Some things are required (proper punctuation, for instance) and some things are forbidden (say, mixed tenses). So certain changes are virtually mandatory. But soon, we gradually move into the realm of opinion, style, and taste. Once a proofreader makes a few of these subjective changes on a broader scale, she's soon dangerously close to substituting her own arbitrary preferences for the unique voice of the writer (and that would be a paying client...) and almost taking partial ownership of the document. In our view, that's terra non grata for a proofreader.
Ideally, there's a healthy dialogue between the writer and the proofreader, one where the proofreader is free to draw on her experience and talent to offer expansive suggestions for improving the clarity and readability of the text. But, ultimately, the accept/reject decisions still remain with the author who is accountable for that document. He should only accept changes that he feels match the desired tone and voice of the document. It should always "feel" like it's the author who's writing, not the proofreader, who must always remain a trusted—but anonymous—partner in the writing process.
You edited my dissertation a few years ago, and since then you always have been one of my key resources for academic writing. You have done a remarkable job in retaining the original text and specific disciplinary language and making it more readable for my fellow academics. I know I can totally rely on your comments (stylistic, grammatical, structural). English is my second language, and working with someone who is as reliable as you is so important. You work very quickly and efficiently to always meet my deadlines. You are a professional in every sense of this word—THANK YOU, Cindy!
For several years, Proof Positive Papers has been a strategic proofreading partner on several of our book projects. Without exception, the work has been polished, professional, and prompt. Their service is invaluable for book authors who want to ensure their manuscripts are clean and clear.
Dave Morris, New Year Publishing