What would you do if you were asked to edit, or proofread, material that offended you? This is an issue that students of our proofreading course struggle with.

Professionally, your role is to alert your client to any material that breaches a law – whether it’s racism, obscenity, copyright, or defamation.

This is covered by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ code of practice, which says: ‘Members and associates should be familiar with the main provisions of the current relevant legislation relating to libel, obscenity, blasphemy, incitement to racial hatred, plagiarism and the reproduction of copyright material belonging to third parties. They should endeavour to ensure that these provisions are adhered to and bring any suspected infringement to the attention of the client.’

The proofreader does not bear any professional or legal responsibility for the content – that belongs to the publishers and the author.

So beyond that, freelancers can decide which work they accept. If you are uncomfortable editing a particular subject, then you don’t have to – though you can expect to lose work, reputation and clients, if you’re too choosy.

My personal view is that professionally, you should read what you’re given, unless it’s illegal. You’re being paid to check the copy – your opinion is irrelevant and is not called for. I’ve encountered this hundreds of times as a journalist: I’ve had to write articles promoting people, and causes, that I despise … and I set aside my personal views and get on with it.
Ultimately, the client is paying you to proofread – not to get offended.

See our proofreading courses