What to expect from a proofreading test.
August 3, 2004 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be taking a proofreading test on Thursday, for a job. Does anyone have any advice about this? I've never had a proofreading job before, but my own writing is usually very typo-free, and I notice spelling and grammatical errors in books all the time.

Any directions to good websites on the subject (detailing terminology, proofing symbols, etc.) would be greatly appreciated, too.
posted by interrobang to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you just now starting to research terminology and symbols?
posted by mischief at 1:24 PM on August 3, 2004

Buy the Chicago Manual of Style and read it.
posted by swift at 1:28 PM on August 3, 2004

The field you are trying to enter will sometimes have its own specific style rules. AP, Chicago, MLA, APA, and more - each has its own quirks.

I personally love my AP style guide. It has the copy-editing marks in the back and a whole list of common mistakes. A quick google search didn't produce any equivalent web resources, however.

Good luck!
posted by Coffeemate at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2004

I've done proofing, and you really only use about 10 symbols, because people make the same kinds of mistakes over and over, eg. capitalize, strike-out, reverse order, move section etc. Don't be too worried, just learn a few of these.
posted by swift at 1:32 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: learn the proofreader's marks. refresh your memory about the words you personally misspell all the time, as you are likely to be thrown off by them, whether spelled incorrectly or correctly.

before i was a lawyer, i was an editor for an ungodly number of years. types of publications have slightly different rules, as do the same types of publications across disciplines, but that's not really something you'll need to be worried about in a proofreading test.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2004

Along those same lines what resources would people recommend to someone looking to improve their mechanics/grammar/usage?
posted by mhaw at 1:45 PM on August 3, 2004

mhaw, hands down the best book on writing I've ever found.
posted by dobbs at 1:50 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: Along those same lines what resources would people recommend to someone looking to improve their mechanics/grammar/usage?

Strunk-n-White. S'all you need. I have about three copies.
posted by Shane at 2:18 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: Here are a couple of good grammar quiz sites to help you brush up in mechanics/grammar/usage: 1 and 2.
posted by smich at 2:34 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: From taking a copyediting test before I got my newspaper job, I'd warn you to look at every single word carefully. If you're already pretty good as the basics, keep an eye out for proper names and words with weird spellings.

Example: "The man was killed when his Volkswagon crashed." Bzz, sorry, it's VolkswagEN.

Another example: "Barbara Streisand won an award." Bzz again, it's BarbRA.
posted by GaelFC at 2:46 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: I second swift's comment re: primarily needing about 10 or so proofreader's marks consistently (cap/lower case, delete, rom/ital, insert mark/letter/word, transpose, close up or insert space, and insert paragraph probably account for more than 90% of the proof marks I use). The Chicago Manual lists all the main ones, plus has a page marked up to show how they should look on the page. (Make sure your handwriting is exceedingly clear, too, when you proof -- when I get tired or rushed, my proof marks tend to get sloppy, which can result in a designer making the wrong correction.)

Also, in looking for spelling errors in very text-heavy or jargon-heavy passages (where it might be easier to overlook something), I've often found it handy to read the section backwards as a last "safety" check. That way, you force yourself to look at each word as a separate unit, rather than within the context of the forward-flow of content/meaning. It's also a good trick when you're proofing or copyediting something you're already quite familiar with.

On preview: GaelFC's comment about being verrrry careful with proper names is excellent -- I'd definitely expect at least one not-immediately-obvious spelling error for a personal or place name on a test. Ditto on spelling and accents for common foreign terms.
posted by scody at 2:55 PM on August 3, 2004

Oh, and good luck, by the way!
posted by scody at 2:59 PM on August 3, 2004

Also: Common Errors in English.
posted by swift at 6:36 PM on August 3, 2004

Best answer: Weird! I work for a company that's currently interviewing for proofreaders. There is an interview scheduled for Thursday. And I am good friends with the person administering the proofreading test. Hmmmm! What state are you in, interrobang?

Here's what I can tell you about the test. The person who created it took an existing document and added lots of errors. The test involves checkng these against a copy document, but also finding mistakes in both documents. I took the test myself (did pretty well, I'm told). There are the usual spelling errors, but also errors in consistency (are the names of similar items all set in the same point size?); punctuation (missing hyphens in words that should be hyphenated, and so on); and typography (are proper apostrophes and quote marks used, or just foot and inch marks?). One trick is placing two errors close to one another: the interviewer read that people quite often don't catch two mistakes in a row. I missed that one myself. Watch also for incorrect leading, and lines with badly kerned type.

I really hope you happen to be taking the test at my company! It's a good place to work, and if you get the proofreader job, you'll be sitting right next to me, and I'm easy to get along with. It would be fun to have another MeFite there.
posted by icetaco at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2004

And a good red ink pen. Besides your brain and your own copy of whichever styleguide they use, that's your toolkit.
posted by Jeff Howard at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, everyone. Keep it coming, if you can. I'm reading Strunk & White for the first time tonight, and studying a couple of pages of proofreaders' marks.

Sorry, icetaco, but I'm in (gulp) Kansas, so it's probably not your company. If only! Not many mefites in Lawrence, as far as I can tell.
posted by interrobang at 7:40 PM on August 3, 2004

Ah - well, good luck to you anyway! You'll do just fine.
posted by icetaco at 8:38 PM on August 3, 2004

I wonder if they let you bring in to the test a concise guide to MLA, Chicago Manual, etc (not all the actual handbooks). Let's face it, any proofreader is going to have something like this beside them when they proof, just the same as any chemist or mathemitician is going to use a programmed calculator instead of memorizing formulas.

I have one small guide that lists the basics (and examples) from all of the common style manuals.

Personally, I HATE all that MLA APA Chicago shite. The worst thing is always citations and footnotes, especially for electronic sources.

John, you already have damn good grammar (I've noticed) and you're not the type who slings extra commas like candy thrown off a Mardi Gras float, so I'd expect you'll do well. They shouldn't expect you to score perfectly, and they should take into acount that when you actually work, you'll be sitting there with a good dictionary and a few other books.

John, my recommendation of Strunk-n-White was specifically for mhaw's question. I think you're already past most of the simple grammar rules, although you should definitely go through sections V and VI: WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED and WORDS COMMONLY MISSPELLED. As far as Section IV, however, you should defer to the various style manuals, as MLA, etc may differ from S&W.

But when you're done with this test, you should definitely go back and read White's recommendations on style, just for your own fiction writing. Section III (!!!) of S&W contains the kind of simple, concise advise that is invaluable, yet easy to forget in the flow of writing.

Good luck! Don't sweat it or get nervous, and ask them if you're allowed access to references as you take the test.
posted by Shane at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2004

Did you catch that I misspelled 'mathemetician' above? Of course you did! You'll do fine ;-)
posted by Shane at 8:09 AM on August 4, 2004

Response by poster: Okay. Thanks, everyone!
posted by interrobang at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2004

Also, they'll probably throw in a comma splice. Learn to recognize and eliminate the comma splice, for your own sake.
posted by rocketman at 9:39 AM on August 4, 2004

icetaco's comments are spot on. I used to be a proofreader. I was told basically that I got the job because no one else noticed that data in the graphs did not match the data in the text, and I was the only person who caught the discrepencies. Also, be on the lookout for how words break at the end of a line. Is the hyphen breaking the word correctly? You'll probably need a dictionary for that though. There are a lot of words that are broken down by syllable differently than one would think.

If you are going for a job proofreading magazines or newsletters or marketing materials, you are going to be required to understand layout and design to some degree, not just spelling and grammar.
posted by archimago at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2004

Response by poster: In case anyone's still following this, I passed the test with only one mistake. I'm moving on to the interview stage.

Thanks to everyone for the invaluable advice!
posted by interrobang at 8:30 PM on August 5, 2004

Response by poster: I'm sure no one's gonna see this, but I got the job. Thanks, metafilter!
posted by interrobang at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2004

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