Proofreading Protocols

Proofing Steps

Note: Clean transcriptions are the backbone of a good historical documentary editing edition. Therefore, proofing is a critical step, and being the proofreader in this final step before publication of a document is serious business. Slow and careful is the method; perfect transcriptions are the goal.

  1. Before proofing, quickly check that the document matches the basic metadata (title and date) and ensure that the images are correct.
  2. Before proofing, take a good look at the formatting of the transcription to make sure that the appearance of the original document is rendered properly.
    • Paragraphs are flush left
    • Interior Addresses, Datelines, Closings, and Signatures are located per the original document
    • Centered text is appropriately centered
    • Blocks of texts are rendered together (examples: 3-line interior addresses; lines of a letterhead
    • Use the source code (“<>”) button on the toolbar above the transcription to reveal the code (which we have deliberately kept simple):
    • Paragraphs should be rendered as <p></p> tags
    • Related text (like an interior address) should be rendered in <div></div> tags
    • Clean out unneeded, over-zealous formatting
    • There is no need for <br> tags if the text is rendered properly in <p> and <div> tags
  1. Start proofing by comparing the text of the original document to the transcription, training on no more than three words at a time. Take care to see each letter, every character, and all punctuation.
  2. Spend extra time on illegible and bracketed words, using the context of the document, other documents within the edition, or outside resources. The proofreader should try to remove all or as many unclear words as possible.
  3. Check that all proper names are spelled correctly (verify with person IDs, the document metadata, or outside resources if necessary). If the original document misspells the proper name, provide the correct spelling in brackets. Take particular care with Jane Addams’ name, as incoming correspondence may omit one of her “d”s.
  4. Save proofing after each page of original text. When working on an online platform, this is a very good habit to adopt.
  5. After completion of the proofing of the document, save the record, and then copy all of the text into Word and run a spellcheck:
    • Using the “change case” tool in word, highlight and then change all fully capitalized text to “capitalize each word”
    • Check EVERY error with the original text
    • In the transcribed text, bracket the correct spelling of any misspelled words in the original document
    • Bracket any British or archaic spellings
    • After competing all of the corrections, save the record, and then carefully read (preferably aloud) the entire document, watching and listening for errors. It is also a good idea in this stage to double check all numbers with the original document, as transpositions are common and easily overlooked.

Helpful Tips

  1. Proficient text-comparison proofers must train the eye (and the brain) to focus on every character and not to read sentences, as they would normally read (and will read after the proofing is completed). Quality proofing requires attention to every detail, and it takes some practice to slow down the brain and to train it to refrain from looking ahead in the text. This is why I strongly urge the limit of three words at a time when comparing a transcription with the original text.
  2. Reading out loud all words and punctuation while proofing will trigger potential errors
  3. Check all capitalization, punctuation, and paragraph formatting, always taking care to see errors and render accordingly
  4. Be alert for words that spellcheck won’t notice:
    • The spelling of Jane Addams’ name in incoming correspondence, rendering as [Addams] when the name is misspelled in the original text.
    • Homophones (ex. there/their; bear/bare)
    • Words that are very different but have very similar spelling (ex. “country” and “county”) can easily trick the eye. Again, take care to see every character.
    • Be careful with Hull-House letterhead, as sometimes “Hull-House” is rendered in all capital letters and sometimes it is not. Take care with the entire address in the letterhead, as well. In chunks of text that are ubiquitous across documents, it is very easy to glaze over errors that can creep into transcriptions. For example, I have corrected numerous instances of “Halsted” incorrectly transcribed as “Halstead”
    • Periodically, reread the transcription policy. It is easy to slip into a faulty application of policy and repeat it.
    • When in doubt about the clarity of a word, the transcription policy itself, or application of a tricky point of the transcription policy, send a note via Basecamp. No question is stupid if you do not know the answer to it; so don’t be afraid to ask, ask, and ask again. Good proofers always question themselves, because the hardest part of consistently applying a good policy is consistency with ourselves over time.
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