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Man vs. machine in proofreading

Man vs. machine in proofreading - medical translationNot long ago, any editor and proofreader taking pride in her craft would work using pen and paper, scribbling proofreader's marks in the margin with a red pen. Oh, how outdated and quaint!

Or is it?

The Signal vs. Noise blog recently posted a good defense of the old approach. Track change" features have been standard fare in word-processing software for several years now. But improved clarity and ease of use tilted the author's preference towards the old skool ways.

When looking at an example of a manual edit vs. a computer-generated "redline", it's clear that the manual markup is neater and clearer - if you know that three underlines means "capitalize this text".
Manual edit vs. a computer-generated redline
Editing with pen and paper provides other advantages as well: Text can be printed in different sizes and with various spacing (double-spaced used to be the de facto standard). The printed source and target language texts can easily be viewed side-by-side, and - this is my favorite little trick when proofing for layout and mechanical issues – turning pages up-side-down means helps the proofer not getting distracted by the text.

But while manual markups have clear advantages, they also slow down the process. Edits have to be processed and then proofed again. Coordinating or exchanging comments across teams is cumbersome and error-prone (I remember many a cut-off or illegible fax transmission).

When a trusted editor works in a word processor, she can redline the text and the author/translator/proofer can review and accept all of her changes in minutes - even if they are separated by thousands of miles.

How about you? Do you have a copy of proofreader's marks hanging on your wall and a set of red pens on your desk or do you exclusively use track changes in a word processor?

Further reading:

  • Designers Toolbox contains a good of list proofreader's marks as well as other helpful design/edit tools.
  • The GITS Blog featured helpful tips on how to maximize efficiency and quality when proofing on-screen.
  • Take the tedium out of proofreadinger (manual or on-screen) by using QA tools like ApSIC XBench.

ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation services to the world's leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies.


  1. YaniQC said...
    Our editor is a man.
    He feels very sad after reading your article.

    Personnaly, I prefer general "he/his/him" too, even I'm not a man.
    ForeignExchange Translations said...
    @Yani: Well, he should be happy because I'm sure he's surrounded by women :-)

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