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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Taylor

Proofreading Know-How: Tools of the Trade

A stack of books with an open laptop leant against them with the title of the blog post written alongside.

In the world of proofreading, the tools we use are like an artist's brushstrokes on a canvas – each one unique and essential in its own way. They guide us, refine our work, and ensure the text gleams with the desired finesse and clarity. From style guides like CMOS and New Hart's Rules to the omnipresent Grammarly and the trusty Merriam-Webster online, these tools are the unsung heroes in the craft of refining language and communication.

1. Style Guides:

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

The Chicago Manual of Style, affectionately known as CMOS, is a beacon in the world of editorial style guides. Its wisdom guides proofreaders through the labyrinth of grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Whether it's the nuances of the Oxford comma, citation formats, or dealing with hyphens, CMOS is the North Star that keeps our editorial journey on track.

New Hart's Rules

A British variant to CMOS, New Hart's Rules offers an insightful perspective into the British style of writing. It navigates through the nooks and crannies of grammar and punctuation with a uniquely British flair. From the use of single or double quotation marks to the preferred placement of punctuation outside of quotations, this guide ensures the texts retain a British identity.

Clients' Own Style Guides

Many clients come armed with their style guides – their own sets of rules and preferences that reflect their brand voice and communication style. These style guides are unique, specific to their industries, and personal to their ethos. It's like diving into the DNA of their communication and ensuring that the texts are in sync with their identity. As proofreaders, we must maintain the author's voice.

2. AI Technology: Grammarly, PerfectIt and More

In the era of rapid technological evolution, AI has seeped into the realm of proofreading. PerfectIt and Grammarly are ubiquitous tools that analyze text, offering grammar, punctuation, and style suggestions. It's akin to having an AI colleague – diligent and thorough, though not without its limitations. It offers swift suggestions, but discerning the context behind the text is still a task reserved for human prowess.

3. Online Dictionaries: Merriam-Webster and More

No proofreader is complete without their trusty dictionary – often these days, an online one. Merriam-Webster, with its vast database, allows us to delve into the depths of word meanings, pronunciations, and etymology. It's not just a tool for checking spelling or meanings; it's a window into the intricate world of language.

Beyond Merriam-Webster, various online dictionaries, including Cambridge, Oxford, and Collins, offer unique insights into language, enriching our understanding and ensuring that the chosen words resonate with precision and eloquence.

4. Traditional proofreader's marks.

List of proofreaders marks with associated image
Proofreaders’ Marks - The following list is taken from figure 2.6 of the 17th edition of the Manual.

In the not-so-distant past, the arsenal of a proofreader included a unique set of symbols and marks. These symbols allowed them to communicate changes and corrections directly on paper manuscripts. Carats (^) indicated where to insert text, while the notorious circled errors and cross-outs indicated deletions. Proofreaders would wield their blue pencils with authority, ensuring that the author's intentions were maintained while polishing the text. While digital tools have largely replaced the tactile nature of these traditional marks, they remain a nostalgic reminder of the artistry of proofreading. It's a beautiful testament to how the craft has evolved while retaining its core principles of clarity and accuracy.'

5. Other resources including Macros

Macros are sequences of events (such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, and delays) that can be played back to help with repetitive tasks. They can also be used to replay sequences that are long or difficult to run. You can assign a macro recorded in Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center to a key or a mouse button.

The following list is taken from Louise Harnby and Denise Cowles podcast on useful Macros for proofreaders and editors.

  • CatchPhrase

  • CitationLister and CitationListChecker

  • CompareWordList

  • File Cleaner

  • FullPointInDialogue and CommaInDialogue

  • MultiSwitch

  • PerfectIt

  • ProperNounAlyse

  • SpellingErrorLister

  • VisibleTrack

Other useful tools are:

A) A thesaurus is great if you feel like you’re overusing a particular word, or searching for the perfect one; try

B) A usage guide; "One must use care and judgment in consulting any dictionary. The mere presence of a word in the dictionary’s pages does not mean that the word is in all respects fit for print as Standard Written English. The dictionary merely describes how speakers of English have used the language; despite occasional usage notes, lexicographers generally disclaim any intent to guide writers and editors on the thorny points of English usage—apart from collecting evidence of what others do. So infer is recorded as meaning, in one of its senses, imply; irregardless as meaning regardless; restauranteur as meaning restaurateur; and on and on. That is why, in the publishing world, it is generally necessary to consult a style or usage guide, such as Fowler’s Modern English Usage or Garner’s Modern English Usage." - taken from CMOS 5: Grammar and usage / 5.250: Good usage versus common usage.

C) A guide to conjunction such as The .

The Art of Proofreading: Balancing Act Between Tech and Tradition

In the world of proofreading, the tools we use are our loyal companions. However, it's crucial to strike a balance between technology and tradition. While AI-driven tools like Grammarly offer speedy suggestions, the human touch is irreplaceable in comprehending context, preserving tone, and maintaining authenticity.

A proofreader's art lies in navigating these tools with finesse. We use style guides to maintain consistency, AI technology for swift error detection, and dictionaries to uncover the essence of words. The skill lies in utilizing these tools to enhance rather than overshadow the craft.

The Path Ahead: A Harmonious Friendship

As we move into the future, the path is clear: a harmonious friendship between AI-driven tools and human acumen. The future lies in collaboration – where AI aids with the groundwork, making processes efficient, and humans add the final touches that infuse texts with life and nuance.

In conclusion, the tools of the proofreading trade are a blend of the old and the new. Style guides like CMOS and New Hart's Rules provide a timeless foundation, while AI tools like Grammarly or PerfectIt and dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster supplement our work. When these tools converge under the guidance of a skilled proofreader, the result is a masterpiece – a perfectly polished piece of communication.

Get in touch if you would like to discuss how I can help refine your manuscript ready for publishing or polish your businesses blog or website content. I would love to hear from you; email me (Deborah) at


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