Just how do you proofread your friend’s work? The question sounds foolish until you find yourself in a compromising situation where a good friend completes a manuscript and asks you to proofread it for him or her.
The truth is, proofreading at the friendship level can cease to be just a simple and honest critique of someone else's writing. Instead it can become very sticky and complex when coupled with the injection of personal relationships. And the problem isn't necessarily the actual feedback provided by the proofreader. Rather it's the intent of the friend soliciting the proofreading services. They're either seeking encouragement from positive feedback or they lack so much confidence in their own work that they are afraid to approach a professional. Either motive can make proofreading a friend’s manuscript a delicate undertaking. So here are 5 ways of addressing the request to proofread an author-friend’s work in a manner that will preserve the friendship:
Learn to Say NO
Most people often struggle with responding “no” to requests for assistance from family or friends. If a friend (or even an acquaintance) asks you to proofread his/her manuscript, it can be really tough to turn them down. However, if you do not feel confident that your friendship will remain intact as a result of your feedback, then it's better to say no than risk losing a valuable relationship.
There are a few scenarios that make saying "no" the best response to a friend's proofreading request. Say you've read some of their writing in the past and concluded at that time that they had little to no chance of ever becoming a well-renowned author. Or what if you're aware that your friend's insecurities and sensitivity about their work will cause him/her to give up after receiving anything other than positive feedback. In both scenarios you'll more than likely provide positive critique even if you feel the manuscript isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
What you have to understand is this – the feedback you provide can have a drastic impact on the success of your friend's goal of becoming a successful author. This is especially true if they've shunned all other proofreading options and solely chose to rely on your opinion. Therefore you can't risk providing biased feedback just because you are afraid of hurting their feelings. As an aspiring author, your friend is going to need (and deserves) total honesty. So if you do not think you can be forthright in your opinion, and you fear the impact your actions as a proofreader might have on your friendship, then simply deny their request.
This is not to say that your opinion of your friend's work has any merit of truth as to whether or not he/she will eventually succeed in his/her endeavors. The problem is that you can't be honest about how you really feel without the risk of damaging your friendship. Just offer to read your friend’s novel but emphasize that you will not proofread it or provide any critical opinions. Let your friend find proofreaders whose opinions will not be hindered or biased by any sort of friendship or relationship.
If you've decided to move forward with proofreading your friend's manuscript, make sure to set boundaries from the start. Your job as a proofreader should be to simply identify the spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, this along with formatting issues. Leave it at that. It is pretty easy to approach your task confidently when you are only dealing with the technical aspects. Make it clear to your friend that your feedback has nothing to do with their writing style or the cohesiveness of their story; offer no assessments that attack or praise their skills as a writer. And be careful not let your friend bait you into revealing whether or not you liked their book, especially if you did not like it.
Offer Constructive Criticism
If you actually think your friend's work is good and only requires a bit of polishing, then it's safe to inject constructive criticism in the proofreading process. However, it's still necessary to proceed with caution and be delicate with your commentary. Do not simply deliver negative feedback and walk away; that sort of dismissive attitude will create problems. The most effective way to offer critique is to follow each point of criticism with a way forward. In other words, boldly point out their mistakes and then tell them what they can immediately do to make improvements. If you’re asked for overall feedback, start with the positives. This will encourage your friend to keep working rather than discouraging or angering him/her.
Ask for Pay
Strange as this might sound, asking your friend to pay you for your proofreading services can help you maintain your friendship. Why? Because it pushes the proofreading aspect of your relationship with your friend into the professional spectrum. When you take money out of the picture and provide proofreading services as a favor, the lines become blurred and your friend will expect you to be a friend (i.e. positive and encouraging). A financial commitment will force him/her to deal with you as a proofreading professional rather than a friend. As a result of doing so, he/she will be less likely to take your criticisms personally.
Proofreading a friend's work is not worth losing a valuable relationship. If you can't be honest about how you really feel, then simply declining the request is the best option. But whichever you decide to do (offer constructive criticism, only check for grammatical errors, request payment or decline altogether), be sensitive and tread lightly in your delivery. True friendships are hard to find and should therefore be nurtured and salvaged at all costs.