Proofreading – why bother?
Do you think you can get by without having your work proofed? Maybe you can, but probably you can’t. We all get too close to what we’re writing to spot the words that aren’t there, the ambiguities, the internal inconsistencies, the spelling howlers, the repeated lines. I hired another proofreader (yes, that’s the OED spelling) for my last three books – because that extra pair of eyes always helps.
Proofreading adds value. If you’re in business, quality text gives confidence to your customers. If you’re in academia, experienced proofreading troubleshoots your work before the examiner or publisher asks for revisions. If you’re in publishing, it stops you looking stupid.
I’ve opened biographies at page one and immediately seen errors and inconsistencies… and not bought the book. I’ve bought lavish CD box sets of vintage jazz, folk and rock artists and squirmed because – despite the thousands spent on the mastering, the design, the photo licensing, the annotations – nobody thought to have it proofed.
In short, a few quid spent on proofreading is the difference between looking amateur and professional.
Why should you hire Colin Harper?
Because I’m competitively priced, negotiable for large projects and have proofed over 1,600 texts in the past six years – from one-page flyers to books and theses of up to 120,000 words. I’m quick, I’m reliable and the quality of my own writing, as an author, is widely regarded. I understand the needs of different clients and texts: the business brochure that needs to be clear, concise and impactful; the academic article that needs to be rigorous and precise in its language; the non-fiction book that needs to have structure and flow, and needs to avoid a quotation appearing on page 153 that has already appeared on page 12.
My fees are £12 per 1,000 words for text by native English speakers and £14 per 1,000 words for second-language English. If you have a long text and/or I think it looks like fun, I can be flexible!
During 2020–21, my clients have included academics at the University of Edinburgh, the University of St Andrews, Ulster University, University of Iceland and the University of Sheffield, and PhD students from Ireland to China. Proofing work has included:
a forthcoming book on UK devolution by three professors;
a substantial funding application for an international academic project to be based at Reykjavik;
an Ulster University/Amnesty International report into Magdalene Laundry institutions;
an issue of the linguistic history journal Studia Celto-Slavica (seven articles from seven authors);
two journal articles on aspects of Cold War history;
a book on a Greek island group in Late Antiquity;
a creative writing dissertation;
two substantial PhD theses, on ISIS recruiting tactics and on issues peculiar to County Fermanagh during the Northern Ireland Troubles;
the Introduction to a book on Roma literary history;
an academic book on a police service in a UK region;
five academic reports on forensic services in a UK region;
a journal article on artistic responses to fairy lore in Britain;
and popular marketplace books on Van Morrison, Jon Hiseman, nature writing and East Belfast.
WHO IS COLIN HARPER?
I wrote professionally on music and theatre for British and Irish broadsheet newspapers and magazines between 1994–2001, including The Irish Times, The Independent, Q, Mojo and others. My first book was published in 2000 and has remained in print ever since. I spent ten years, from 2001–2011, working for the Belfast Education & Library Board, including five years as a college librarian and district exams coordinator, and returned to full-time writing and related activities in 2012. Between 2012 and 2015, I researched and wrote three books on musical history (jazz, rock and Irish traditional music) and completed a PhD. Since 2015, I have been focused on professional proofreading, both via my own Belfast Proofreading and for a period via a leading international agency. Since 2019, I have worked exclusively for private clients, mostly at the PhD thesis or academic staff levels. I continue to work on books and other projects, including consulting on archive projects for international record labels, in my spare time.
PhD in Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, 2014
HNC Level 7 in Admin & IT, Belfast Metropolitan College, 2012
Postgraduate Diploma in Information Management, Queen’s University Belfast, 1997
BA Hons in Modern History, Queen’s University Belfast, 1989
Echoes From Then: Glimpses of John McLaughlin 1959–75 (Market Square, 2017)
The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers (Jawbone Press, 2015) with John McSherry
Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior (Jawbone Press, 2015) with Andy Powell
Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone Press, 2014)
Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004) with Trevor Hodgett
Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; revised 2006; second revision 2012)
WHAT IS PROOFREADING?
Some people think using a computer’s spell-checker facility sorts the whole thing out. In many cases a spell-checker will advocate spellings that are NOT consistent with the Oxford English Dictionary, the arbiter of correct spelling in British English. One example is the word ‘proofreader’ itself. MS Word’s spell-checker will tell you it should be ‘proof-reader’ or ‘proof reader’; the OED will tell you it is one word. There is, though, much more to proofreading than fixing a few typos.
‘Fixing’ an academic text includes the following:
correcting typographical errors (misspelt words);
adding missing words;
applying consistency throughout (e.g. with capitalisation and punctuation);
ensuring that abbreviations/acronyms are explained on their first usage;
ensuring that the appropriate version of ‘Academic English’ is used throughout (British or American English, or sometimes a hybrid in the style guidelines of certain academic publishers);
addressing ambiguities (where a sentence or phrase may be read more than one way);
removing repetition (where material may appear more than once in the text);
removing redundancy (where a sentence may include two phrases saying basically the same thing);
removing inaccurate words (where an author has assumed a word to have a meaning that it does not have);
applying concision (editing/splitting rambling or overly complex sentences);
ensuring clarity (e.g. addressing obscure or mixed metaphors);
ensuring that the writing style is appropriate for the audience (e.g. in academic texts, removing the first person, colloquialisms and slang, and also removing pseudo-academic gibberish);
ensuring that the required referencing style throughout is adhered to (e.g. Harvard, APA, Chicago, etc.)
troubleshooting for ‘understandability’ among readers outside of the geographical territory or field of study in question (sometimes, writers can unwittingly use vernacular terms or refer in passing to things that require explanation for foreign or non-specialist readers – which is particularly pertinent with academic texts, which may be cited by academics worldwide and sometimes in other disciplines).
Academic clients will generally be aware of what presentational specifications their work needs to satisfy: font, font size, spacing, margins, heading style, dynamically linked table of contents and tables of figures, etc. All of these requirements can be met.
‘Colin Harper has been a superb editor and proofreader on a co-authored book on which I have been working. His attention to detail is meticulous and thorough, providing clear and comprehensive treatment of the work sent to him for proofing. Moreover, he does so with good grace and in a timely fashion.’
Professor Paul Carmichael, Associate Dean (Global Engagement), Ulster University, 2021
‘Colin Harper’s assistance was brilliant. He proofread and edited a policy report and peer-reviewed journal article that I was under pressure to publish. I was amazed at his attention to detail, he picked up on the smallest detail and made very insightful suggestions. The turnaround time was impressive too. All in all, it was a totally professional job - on both pieces of work. He’s now my go-to proofreader and editor!’
Professor Patricia Lundy, Sociology, Ulster University, 2021
‘I was really impressed with Colin’s work. He set out a clear work plan and stuck to it making it easy to plan out my own schedule . His response time to emails was prompt and the work itself was first class.’
Professor Rebecca Sweetman, Head of School of Classics, University of St Andrews, 2021
‘Colin is an outstanding proofreader who would always be the first to contact when I need a high-quality and prompt service. Apart from the professionalism in English language proofreading, I find particularly valuable his engaged reading of the texts, interest in a wide range of subjects (in the field of humanities and beyond) and his erudition – which makes him an invaluable reader who is able to refine the expression and flesh out the views articulated in the text.’
Dr Sofiya Zahova, post-doctoral researcher, University of Iceland, 2021 (second-language English)
‘Colin was brilliant, and instrumental in my document flowing correctly, reading well, and looking brilliant!’
Dr David Law, Engineering PhD – achieved, 2020
‘Colin has been helping me with proofreading and structural suggestions as I’ve transitioned from a Master’s course to a PhD. His assistance and guidance have really helped shape my research focus and added a great weight to my writing.’
Gráinne Duffy, Music PhD student – ongoing, 2020
‘Colin proofread my academic article of 12,000 words and it took him only a day or two, which was a great surprise for me. He gave a lot of helpful suggestions on how to make the article more convincing and was very careful with the original text and at the same time attentive to details.’
Dr Anna Kruglova, Lecturer in Terrorism Studies, University of Salford, 2019 (second-language English)
‘Thanks for the helpful and interesting comments and a really great job. I will certainly use you for any future work and recommend you widely across the department.’
Dr Brian Payne, Course Director for Criminology and Criminal Justice, Ulster University, 2019
‘Colin proofed my PhD thesis. I found the whole process extremely helpful – I went to Colin before it was completely finished, as I moved from Scrivener to a Word document to try to get some movement on layout, etc. Colin was great with it all. Insightful in terms of material as well, though careful not to get in the way. I highly recommend him.’
Dr Damian Evans, Research Foundation for Music in Ireland, 2018
‘Colin proofed my book, Trouble Songs. Attention to detail, very helpful suggestions and a supportive manner. Recommended.’
Stuart Bailie, musical history author, 2018
‘If you are looking for great proofreading, look no further than Colin Harper. He is an excellent writer, who knows how to read and improve the work of others.’
Professor John Storey, Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, 2015
‘Colin stepped into the breach within a busy research policy environment and helped us in proofreading existing website material, creating new case study essays for our web pages, and writing onstage material for the November 2015 Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards gala. All of which was delivered with outstanding efficiency and skill – I was very grateful to have had his valuable input and would recommend him without reserve.’
Kerry Curran, Research Policy Manager, Queen’s University Belfast, 2015
‘I have seen several examples of Colin Harper’s copy-editing and they confirm to my complete satisfaction that he possesses the full range of skills to do this job to the highest standard.’
Professor Derek B. Scott, Professor of Critical Musicology, University of Leeds, 2015
‘Colin is a pleasure to work with. I have been impressed with the rigour, accuracy and thoroughness with which he applies his technical knowledge to his writing. His understanding of English grammar and formatting is superb, his attention to detail is impressive and he produces work with flow and readability. His writing is clear, exact and insightful. I have been impressed with Colin’s diligence and precision, and he approaches writing tasks with enthusiasm and a deep commitment to his subject. In my experience, he works strictly to deadlines and has a comprehensive and exhaustive approach to research. I would unhesitatingly recommend Colin to anyone and will use his services in the future.’
Dr Suzanne Mackenzie, Associate Lecturer (Social Sciences), The Open University, 2015
SAMPLE BOOK REVIEW QUOTES
‘A work of considerable importance, scholarly beyond the bounds of traditional rock biography, intuitive and informed.’
Johnny Black, Q, 2000
‘The folk scene [of the 1960s] has found an excellent chronicler in Colin Harper.’
Times Literary Supplement, 2000
‘In short? Required reading for anyone who professes to have an interest in Irish music.’
Tony Clayton-Lea, Irish Times, 2004
‘A vivid portrait… Harper’s book not only does the subject justice, but is also an indispensable guide – the best yet written – to the Brit jazz scene in the 1960s…’
Stuart Nicolson, Jazzwise, 2014
‘A celebration of a dues-paying twilight world that is now on the verge of passing out of living memory. Harper’s treatment leaps from the page… perceptive and authoritative… forensic detail… Essential reading.’
Sid Smith, Prog, 2014
‘Thoroughly engaging… written with obvious erudition and enthusiasm… an essential book for anyone interested in Irish music and is set to become an invaluable point of reference for future explorations.’
Michael Quinn, Songlines, 2015
‘The painstaking research Colin has whipped into every last line of this book will keep even the most conversant readers reading… Pick up this book while you can – you won’t put it down!’
Mark Youll, Jazz Journal, 2018
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