PROOF-READING, the art or business of correcting for the press the printed " proofs " of articles or books set in type before publication. The special business of a proof-reader, attached to a printing house, is to correct these proofs before they are shown to the author; he is an intermediary between the compositor and the author, and as such his functions may vary according to his capacities. Proof-reading as a distinct department in the work of a printing office does not date from the very earliest days of " the art preservative of all arts." The first products of the printing-press show abundant evidences of the non-existence of any one specially charged with the duty of correcting the compositors' mistakes. How much conjectural emendation and consequent controversy would have been avoided if the First Folio Shakespeare had been more typographically correct! Sir Theodore Martin said that the typographical errors alone of that work had been computed to number nearly 20,000, which amounts to 2-25% of the total number of words in the volume. It was a usual practice in the iyth and 18th centuries for authors to send the proofs of their works round amongst their personal friends for correction; and in the universities and colleges sheets of works passing through the press were frequently hung up in the quadrangles for public inspection and correction. With the growth of printing gradually came a demand for systematic proof-reading, and the leading printers engaged scholars and men of letters to read proofs for them. Among these may be mentioned Cruden, of Concordance fame (" Alexander the Corrector "), and William Julius Mickle, poet, and translator of Luiz de Camoens's Lusiads, who was a reader at the Clarendon Press. Goldsmith and Dr Johnson also are credited with having wielded the proof-reader's pen. Times, however, have changed since, as the elder D'Israeli wrote, " it became the glory of the learned to be correctors of the press to eminent printers," and to-day in every printing office the proofreader is found an unobtrusive functionary, known to publishers, authors, editors and journalists, but for the most part unknown to the general reading public; a functionary who yet does useful, often valuable, and always indispensable work. The influence of good proof-reading upon the character of book, newspaper and general printing is too often underrated. The celebrated old printing offices and the foremost of the modern ones owe their reputation for good workmanship largely to the excellence and thoroughness of the work done in their reading-rooms, for no perfection of paper, ink, machining or binding can atone for bad or slipshod typography.
The nature of the proof-reader's work, frequently monotonous and uninteresting, will be made clear by what follows. After the compositor (see TYPESETTING) has set up, by hand or type-setting machine, the " copy " supplied to him, a slip or page proof is pulled and sent with the manuscript to the proofreader. The manuscript is then read aloud by a copy-holder, while the proof-reader carefully follows the text before him letter by letter, marking on the margin of the proof all the misspellings, turned letters, " wrong fonts " (letters differing in size or style of face from those in the immediate context) and other errors, and seeing that the punctuation clearly defines the author's meaning. The copy-holder reads rapidly indeed, 'an ordinary listener would imagine it to be impossible for the proof-reader to understand him and as the reader is obliged to keep pace, he goes through the proof again, without the aid of the copy-holder, in order to mark any errors that may have escaped him in the first rapid reading. The proof, called the " first proof," is then sent to the compositor to be corrected. When this has been done, a further proof is submitted to the reader, who, upon satisfying himself by careful revision that it is free from typographical mistakes, passes it as " clean." If the reader, when dealing with the first proof, notices any slips in grammar or errors of fact on the part of the writer, or is in doubt whether any particular word in the manuscript has been correctly deciphered, he underlines the word or passage, and places " Qy." (query) in the margin. The proof is then despatched to the author or editor. On the return of the proof, after the writer's corrections and alterations have been carried out, the type is made up into pages and sheets and another proof pulled. This passes into the hands of the press reader (as distinguished from the "first proof-reader"), who checks the headlines, page numbers, and sequence of chapters or sections, and observes that the pages are of uniform length and that a sufficient amount of margin is allowed, before finally reading through the text. When the press-reader's corrections have been effected, the work is ready for the printing machine or the stereotyping foundry.
The cost of proof-reading may be said to range from about 1\ to 20% of the cost of composition, varying, of course, with the nature of the work.
Many prominent authors have expressed in warm terms their gratitude to the proof-reader for valuable assistance rendered by apt queries and pertinent suggestions. Two of these expressions of opinion may be given as typical, one from a novelist and one from a poet. Charles Dickens said: " I know from some slight practical experience what the duties of correctors of the press are, and how these duties are usually discharged. And I can testify, and do testify here, that they are not mechanical that they are not mere matters of manipulation and routine; but that they require from those who perform them much natural intelligence, much superadded cultivation, considerable readiness of reference, quickness of resource, an excellent memory and a clear understanding. And I must gratefully acknowledge that I have never gone through the sheets of any book I have written without having had presented to me by the corrector of the press something I had overlooked some slight inconsistency into which I had fallen some little lapse I had made in short, without having set down in black and white some unquestionable indication that I had been closely followed in my work by a patient and trained mind, and not merely by a skilful eye. In this declaration I have not the slightest doubt that the great body of my brother and sister writers would, as a plain act of justice, heartily concur." Robert Browning thus corroborated Dickens: " I have had every opportunity of becoming acquainted with, and gratefully acknowledging, the extreme service rendered to me; and, if mine be no exceptional case, the qualifications of readers and correctors are important indeed." P. Larousse spoke of French proof-readers as his " collaborateurs les plus chers," and Hugo referred to them as those " modestes savants " so well able " lustrer les plumes du genie"; while the Academic Francaise consulted them on points arising in the revision of the Academy's dictionary.
Though much good work is done by readers who have not been practical printers, yet the technical knowledge gained by working as a compositor is essential to the best proof-reading. The reader must possess a quick eye, alert to note every error or mechanical imperfection in the type, and must scrutinize closely every letter of every word, clause and sentence, while keeping a grasp of the sense of the matter he is dealing with. The more varied his information and the wider his knowledge, the better. Though his strict duty is merely to see that the author's copy is properly reproduced, he is always glad to give the author the benefit of the experience and knowledge he has acquired, and, as a consequence, he is constantly crossing the line which separates proof-reading from sub-editorial duties. From this last consideration has arisen the plea for the reader, on the daily press especially, being placed under the control of, and made responsible to, the editorial department rather than the head of the composing-room.
Proof-readers in Great Britain have a trade union, and many of them retain membership of the unions to which they belonged when working as compositors; and in some states of the American Union as well as in Scotland the compositors insist upon readers being also members of their society. The oldest English organization devoted entirely to the interests of proof-readers is the Association of Correctors of the Press, founded in 1854. The chief aim of the association is to give its members information as to vacant situations, so as to keep them in full employment; but it also assists members in distress from its benevolent fund, and provides pensions, as well as a sum of money at death. There is in France the Societe des correcteurs des imprimeries de Paris. There are also proof-readers' societies in several American cities, many of whose members are women, for in the United States women bulk largely in the rank of proof-readers. There are very few women proof-readers in London. In Edinburgh, however, women form a considerable proportion of the proof-readers. (J. A. BL.; J. R.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)