I aim for perfection but I can’t and wont promise it as there are key issues which will almost certainly come into play.
Perfection in writing is subjective, some errors are indisputable and some are not. If you give your text to ten different proofreaders and editors then you will likely get ten different versions back. If you then give the different versions to different readers, you will get different responses.
I follow the guidance in New Hart’s Rules unless the brief of a particular job tells me to use something different. I need to justify my reasons for making any amendments to disputable errors so if it is ‘good enough’ as it is then I will leave it alone. I don’t want to change the authors voice, it isn’t my work and I don’t change things for my own personal preference. I would make amendments, however, to disputable errors to ensure consistency throughout the text.
Many rules have changed over time and one reader may consider the grammar they learned at school to be correct whereas the New Hart’s Rules may say differently. For example, I learned at school to always use two spaces after a full stop but now most publishers consider this to make text too ‘gappy’ and one space is now standard.
There are also variations between US and UK preferences, one example is quotation marks. In British English, single quotation marks are more common whereas American English tends to prefer double quotation marks. Either way is correct if its kept consistent throughout the text. Another example is -ise and -ize verb forms, again, either are acceptable as long as consistency is applied.
Another key issue is regarding the text that has been given to the proofreader. If the text has come from a publisher it will have gone through several stages of editing and checking before arriving on the proofreaders desk, there will be errors at this stage but they will likely be in the hundreds.
If the text arrives on my desk and it hasn’t been through any previous editorial revisions, then I will likely make thousands of amendments. I simply cannot say, ‘I have made over 6,500 amendments to your text and I have not missed a single error, it is now perfect’.
I am a professional, I am meticulous and I will do my best for every person and every piece of text that I work on. That is a promise I can make and one I will keep.
Below is the guidance from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) in response to the question of whether a proofreader will make my text perfect:
No professional proofreader should promise to make your text perfect. This is partly because no matter how well trained, experienced and diligent they are, they are still human (and that’s a good thing!). It’s also because perfection is a subjective concept. While some errors are indisputable, others are not.
Is there an acceptable rate of errors for proofreading? Having said that proofreaders can’t make text perfect, it is important that they catch almost all errors, because that is the main purpose of their work. Some people will assert that proofreaders should catch a certain percentage of errors, but we don’t believe this is helpful – because of the subjective nature of errors, and also because the proofreader will be working within other constraints.