How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting

Image by toolstop (CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Corina Koch MacLeod

Updated February 2014

In a previous post, I explained that professional proofreaders proofread a document for language-related proofreading errors. But that’s not all they do. Proofreaders also check a document for formatting errors, which means that they generally do two passes of a document (read through it twice), sometimes more. Rigorous? Yes. But aren’t your readers worth it?

Your first proofreading pass can be done on your computer, in whatever word processing program you use. I think it’s a good idea to do your second pass on an e-reading device so you can view your book in the form that readers will experience it. I describe how to proofread your book on an e-reading device in this post.

For now, let’s focus on the kinds of formatting problems that creep up in ebooks. By formatting, I mean how a “page” looks and works. To understand formatting problems in ebooks, you need to put yourself in your readers’ shoes to determine the kinds of things that will distract them from a positive e-reading experience. Here’s what to look for:

Formatting checklist

  • Is there an external or meta table of contents that readers can access to navigate your book?
  • Do you have an internal linked table of contents? (readers may want to see this in your book sample)
  • Are your paragraph fonts the same size throughout?
  • Are your paragraphs styled consistently (first-line indent, block style, or hanging indent?)
  • Are your chapter headings the same size throughout? Are they too big?
  • Are drop caps displaying properly?
  • Is your running text font too big? Too small?
  • Have you used smart quotes? Are quotation marks and apostrophes turned the right way?
  • Do you have a space before and after em dashes (—), en dashes (–) and ellipses (…)? It doesn’t matter if you do, but you’ll need to be consistent.
  • Are boldface or italics applied randomly to words?
  • Are there funny characters where punctuation should be?
  • Are there forced line breaks where there shouldn’t be?
  • Are there blank pages?
  • Are there large gaps between words? Extra spaces where they don’t belong?
  • Does a space need to be inserted between two words that run together?
  • Are you missing entire lines of text?
  • Do hyperlinks work when you tap on them?
  • Are visuals where they’re supposed to be? Are they sized correctly?
  • Is the text in tables large enough to read?
The presence of any of the items in the list above can distract and irritate readers. Attending to these details will ensure that your readers will notice what they’re supposed to notice — your writing.

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Ebook Like a Pro, Part 1: Looking for Language Errors
How to Proofread on a Kindle: 8 Steps to Proofreading Your mobi Book
How to Get Your Book Ebook-Ready
Working With Page Proofs (Proofreading in Print), by Louise Harnby

3 thoughts on “How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting

  1. Corina, this is an excellent post. But two questions arise in my mind immediately: 1) How does the author or editor up/download an MS Word document onto an e-reader for proofreading, and 2) How is markup done? How are corrections made? Does a separate list of corrections need to be made and e-mailed to the e-publisher?

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