Denise M Taylor

Writing Consultant I Editor I Proofreader

If you’re ready to have your writing project (fiction or non-fiction, thesis or academic paper) proofread (or lightly edited), then why not email me via my contact page with a brief overview of your specific requirements, and/or concerns. I understand that it takes courage to hand over one’s writing to be scrutinised by a stranger.

Based in Melbourne as a proofreader and editor of the English written word, I am constantly aware that the English language is developing and changing: today’s slang (which Virginia Woolf calls “the speech of the herd”), or condensed words, could eventually become the standard of the future. The spelling of words is certainly not fixed for eternity. Being a Melburnian, I often find myself trying to explain the omission of the letter ‘o’ in ‘Melburnian’ to a non-Melburnian. Reader, I can’t.

Not long ago, I was proofreading a creative non-fiction written in Microsoft Word. In his manuscript he had written spelt (or do you prefer ‘spelled’?) verandah without the ‘h’, which looks unfinished to me. When I added the letter ‘h’, the word was immediately underlined in red by MS Word, indicating that it was spelt incorrectly; the language was set to English (Australia). So I investigated, as proofreaders do on these occasions (well, this proofreader does!).  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entry is veranda, noting ‘Also – dah’. Even though I was vindicated, and prefer the look of ‘verandah’ on the page, and not ‘veranda’, I conceded and deleted the ‘h’. The wriggly red line disappeared. Reader, I moved on.

Well, not immediately . . . If you’re like me, once you’ve checked out the spelling of a word, you then spend too much time tracing its origins, and become an annoying etymologist: “But, why?” we ask. The OED tells me that the origin of ‘veranda’ comes from the Portuguese word, veranda, railing, balustrade, and from the Hindi varandā. I just continue down the garden path until I am overwhelmed by the thickening wilderness. Reader, are you still with me?

I am a proofreader and editor who lives in Melbourne, and although I have edited and proofread manuscripts, theses, submission material, educational resources and documents from other parts of Australia, my main source of work is from Melbourne writers. I guess there is a feeling amongst local writers that if I’m Melbourne-based, that it’s nice to know that their proofreader lives ‘just around the corner’. But the world is changing . . . and getting smaller?

That brings me to the ‘marking’ of a manuscript: the ‘old’ days (as far as I’m concerned) of printer marks and blue pencils are long gone. Even though I still offer the service of proofreading hard-copies, most proofreaders these days work online using MS Word Track Changes; you email your writing to me; I proofread using Track Changes; I email the proofread writing back to you, and you can accept or reject each suggested change with the click of a mouse.

The greatest asset that a proofreader of the English language can have is a keen eye for ambiguity, typos and inaccuracies; a better-than-basic grasp of grammar (e.g. keeping track of tenses and recognising the subjunctive mood even if the author cannot) and punctuation. English-Australian or UK-English spelling is usually the preferred choice of my clients, which means I can put a line through the letter ‘z’ in words like ’emphasize’ and replace it with the less harsh letter ‘s’. As Shakespeare’s character Kent said to Oswald in King Lear (Act 2, Scene 2):

Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!—My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this unbolted villain into mortar and daub the wall of a jakes with him.—Spare my grey beard, you wagtail?

(You useless bastard—you’re like the letter ‘z’, a totally unnecessary addition to the alphabet. My lord, please let me grind this lumpy lowlife into a powder and use it to plaster up the bathroom walls. You didn’t kill me because I’m so old, you fawning dog?)

Capitalisation (note the sensible Austral spelling here -‘s’ instead of ‘z’) remains problematical (to capitalise or not), as it has been for much of the history of English, and at times a client will want to reinvent the wheel.

The trend these days is to let spelling off the hook of the past by allowing infiltrations of shortened versions of words; for example, according to the OED, the word, sneak, can be used as a noun, a verb and an adjective; the OED goes on to state that its past tense is written as sneaked (also snuck). Apparently snuck sneaked into our vocabulary in the 1800s and is now considered a standard past tense of sneak, particularly in the US. Bill Bryson writes in Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors that:

The day may well come when snuck super-cedes sneaked — it probably already has in American speech — but it is worth bearing in mind that many authorities continue to regard it as non-standard. Use sneaked instead.

The reality is that many of the bits of grammar that we think of as wrong are actually just a matter of preference. Words that I deem redundant in a sentence are sometimes debated by the author. For example, the sculpture we liked best in the show was the bronze one called ‘Braveheart’; ‘one’ is redundant. Words still ring in my ear from a teacher, who was obsessed with eliminating redundant words and constantly pointing out ‘fillers’ in sentences such as actually, really, just, in fact, in actual fact. I recall proofreading a memoir that was written just how the writer spoke; for example, be that as it may, I really just wanted to get the hell out of there because I’d said all the things I wanted to say about those two different men in fact I’d said too much so I snuck out. Reader, take a guess.

The English language is shifty and can be confusing, but must be respected for all its mood swings and transformations (even by colonial renegades ‘down south’). So, dear Reader, please don’t bully this sensitive Melbourne proofreader if she questions your spelling, punctuation, choice of words and grammar preferences. Your revenge can be exacted with the click of a mouse.


I recently received this welcome feedback from a longstanding client:

I was delighted with your final proofing on my last draft. So good to get some clarity on the colon issue and the capitalisation. I knew there were still some problems but it was really doing my head in nailing what was the basic principle–with your extra input I finally got it!



If you’re ready to have your writing proofread or edited, or you would like an appraisal of your writing, whether it is a complete manuscript or a work-in-progress, then please email me via my contact page with a brief overview of your needs and I will give you an idea of the type of personalised service/s I can offer that  I think would best suit you at this stage in your writing project (mentoring, manuscript appraisal, editing, proofreading).

Leave a Reply