Why do it?
Okay, first off. Why volunteer for the position? Well, to be perfectly honest, when I first started proofreading I did it because it was early access to the game. I know I'm not the only one, don't feel bad if that's your own reason for doing it. However. Be aware of a few things.
If you do it like you're playing a game or reading a book, you're not doing it right.
What? What do I mean by that? Easy. The brain will skip over many errors during casual play/reading. I'm sure you've seen that paragraph floating around that proves the brain will rearrange letters to form the correct word as long as the first and last letter are in place. It's true. It will also rearrange words and a lot of typos if you're not really paying attention as well. You have to be concentrating to catch a lot of stuff.
When I write things, I tend to make a first draft and go over it several times because of this. Try it sometime. Consciously slow yourself down and really analyze what you wrote, instead of simply reading it. It may even help to say what you wrote out loud, since it takes longer than just reading it. In fact, reading things out loud can be a great way to check grammar and sentence flow. After a while, you may not recognize what is wrong, but you'll learn to spot when something is wrong.
Grammar is not a bad thing. Many, many people on the internet are tired of hearing about grammar, many people don't see what the big deal is. Good grammar can help writing be a lot more easily accessible, and help reading be a better and easier experience for everyone. That said, be careful when you check grammar. It can be so easy to make mistakes! There are many, many rules of grammar and many variances. Here are just three big things to consider:
- Dialects. Many regions have their own accepted styles of talking or writing. I've accidentally attempted to correct grammar before and then had it explained to me that no, it's correct, it's just not what I'm used to. It never hurts to clarify with the writer what his/her intentions were. If you have any questions, let them know. For example: Southerners in America use a lot of words that would be considered misspelled or even "not words" in other parts of the world, but in the south they are perfectly correct!
- Tenses. Be careful with tenses. I guess I could simply emphasize to pay attention. We constantly shift tenses when we speak. You could be talking about something that happened yesterday (past tense), then shift to how you feel about what happened (present tense), then go on to talk about lunch tomorrow (future tense), then back to how you felt in the past (past tense). Four shifts in just one conversation. Certain writing styles also use certain tenses as part of the style.
"Sure, I went (past) to the grocery store yesterday, but I don't know (present) how I would feel (future) if I have to (present) go again today."
This is correct. It's a bit on the awkward side, but I pulled it together more to demonstrate than as an actual bit of writing. Basically, just be careful.
- Character Traits. Many characters also have individual speaking styles that you should be aware of as well. Some characters are meant to speak a certain way. Maybe this girl slurs her words, or that girl doesn't like to use other people's names, or that boy doesn't like to refer to himself in the first person, or that other person over there doesn't like to use gender pronouns. Some of these examples are not going to happen all that often, but it's a good thing to keep in mind. Also note that if the character is spouting off internet memes they are more than likely not going to be grammatically correct, but... no one may care anyway.
Easiest way to check this is to run anything unfamiliar through a spell check. There are loads of them available through your friendly neighborhood search engine. You can also, if you get a text file of the dialogue, run it through something like Microsoft Word. Just be aware that Word may not catch everything, and will flag things like character names and "fantasy" words. Regions also come into play here, as I mentioned before. I'm a southerner. I say "ain't" and "y'all" quite often, and where I live, it's considered correct. You may not recognize those words and it might send up a red flag for you. It never hurts to double check!
Oh my god!! This sounds like some kind of job! What is this, I don't even?!
It can be! Proofreading is a position just like writing or drawing, and can be just as important. It can help to think of it this way: The writer builds the car, the coder puts in the engine and other parts, the artist paints it, and now you have to inspect everything to see that it's in order. Since you're not actually test driving it, you don't (usually) have to worry about it exploding in your face, emitting foul odors or randomly singing the blues out of nowhere, but there may be quite a few things out of order nonetheless.
Proofreading being what it is, it's not likely to be something the magnitude of, say, not having a gas pedal. It'll more than likely be the equivalent of there being a bit of paint scuffed, a seat missing a cushion, the gear shift having a huge spike instead of a handle. Wait, what? Okay, I think we can get away from that analogy for a minute.
Basically, you help the story look the best that it can. You help the writer get their meaning across so that the readers enjoy reading it as much as the writer hopefully enjoyed writing it. It was written for the enjoyment of others, and to convey a great deal of meaning that can otherwise be lost if the reader has to stop every few sentences and try to figure out what was just said. The vast majority of the writing you proofread is not going to be terrible, just so you know. You may not have a great deal of work to do. But it's still important, and it still makes a difference when you do it.
- If the writer's specifically asked for it or I get the feeling more help may be needed, I not only do the usual checking, I'll write down suggestions or explanations as well.
"This is spelled wrong.": Is self-explanatory.
"This is worded poorly, please consider a rewrite.": Is.. also self-explanatory, but not that helpful.
It can really help to say WHY something is wrong, or suggest a possible change. They may not like your suggestion, but it may prompt a better re-phrasing of the sentence in question or an explanation of why it is the way it is.
Example: Instead of saying, "The big smelly dog ate my homework and I'd like it dead," try "That nasty, stinky dog ate my homework! I wish it were dead!"
Be aware that in this example, the two sentences give off a very different feel. You might not be getting the writer's intent across in your suggestion as well as they might like.
- Expect to take roughly twice as long proofreading a game as you would normally playing it. It may not take this long, but it should not take the same amount of time. If it does, you're probably not taking enough time. I played a game and it took me... not more than an hour. I proofread that same game, intensively (with lots of suggestions and explanations), and it took me about three hours.
- Do not purposely skip things. This may seem obvious, but when you're proofreading something, sometimes the corrections can seem like they're piling up and you start to doubt yourself or feel bad. Maybe I'm being too hard on them, maybe I'm nit-picking, maybe the players won't particularly care about this mistake over here... you're doing yourself and the writer a disservice doing this. Not to say that it isn't possible that some of it truly is nit-picking, but it's better to err on the side of caution and mention something, then find out it's not a big deal, than it would be to not mention something and have it come up again later.
I've never personally experienced it, but I can imagine it being frustrating having several proofreaders look over your work only to later stumble upon an error yourself. Then, when you mention it, all of them say they'd seen it but decided it wasn't worth noting. Which brings up another tip.
- You are only human. You're not going to catch everything. Do your best, but don't beat yourself up too bad if you DO miss stuff. I mean, the writer is only human as well, that's why you're here!
- Sometimes the best thing to do is look something over, wait an hour or so, then look at it again. Fresh eyes can make a world of difference.
You don't really have to read this part, it's just a small note of my personal method.
First Playthrough: I always do one run where I actually enjoy the game. If I'm going to play it, I want to at least have some fun. It helps to motivate me to dig in and do a good job! I also note spelling and if anything jumps out at me as being really badly worded. This also lets me know how thorough my second playthrough has to be.
Second Playthrough: Usually two is all I need. This is the one where I sit down and give everything a thorough look. Take each screen of dialogue and really look at it. If something seems a bit off, stop and say it out loud. If I'm unsure about something, I run it by a grammar website or through a spellcheck.