Okay. So you might know I love proofreading. But why? Why? Why would someone actually enjoy that?
This was the implied question I could read in the eyes of the recruiter who interviewed me in 2012 for my first job as a proofreader (well, my first paid job as a proofreader).
“Well Lou, it certainly sounds like you have the skills, but you do know this job might involve a lot of time alone at a computer, reviewing really technical stuff right? Won’t you get bored?” “No!” I stressed. “I love that stuff!”
His resulting nervous giggle and slight head-shake were equal parts relieved and concerned, which is always a state I like to invoke in others. And I got the job.
But let’s be serious for a moment. What is proofreading, and why do I think it’s so important?
Proofreading is carefully checking for errors in a document before it’s published or shared. It’s the last step in the writing process, and focuses on fixing spelling and punctuation mistakes, typos, formatting issues and inconsistencies.
It’s different to editing, which looks at lifting the overall quality of the writing.
So why might your document need a proofreader?
Most of the time, we read to understand and connect whole ideas. Our brain is focused on getting the meaning. The bigger picture. And rightly so.
But that also means that when we’re reading our own work, we know what we’re trying to say. This can mean our brain will fill in any missing ideas or words without us noticing.
It’s also why we might read the proof of a crucial report over and over before approving it for printing only to receive the printed copies back and realise – with horror – that we misspelled our client’s name.
On the front page.
And that reprinting it will cost $30,000.
It might also mean – as happened to one of our clients at Hummingbird – that you send off the draft of an important Government report and not notice that all instances of *disk* have auto-corrected to a much more unfortunate four-letter word beginning with ‘di’ and ending in ‘k’. (Luckily, this client engaged us to proofread the final report before submitting it.)
But proofreaders? We’re a bit different (good different, I hope). We’re specifically ‘turning on’ a mental process that allows us to pick up on these things.
When you engage a proofreader, you’re engaging a professional with a very specific skill-set.
We can remember, when we get to page 74 of your report and see an organisation’s name written as ACRIOB, that we’re sure it was written ACROIB on page 4. We’ll then check which version’s correct before searching the the document for all instances of ACRIOB and changing them to ACROIB. You might think this doesn’t matter, but ACROIB might not be be so understanding.
We’ll also notice ‘be’ repeated in that previous sentence, and ‘the’ in the one before that.
Also, we know grammar and spelling like the back of our thesauri.
We know the rules, but also know why they’re important. We know it’s not about following rules for rules’ sake, but because small things can make a huge difference to what you’re saying. Take this example I often use when running writing workshops and which you might have seen before:
Small changes really do sometimes make a big difference.
(By the way, jumping back for a moment to that thesaurus, have I told you about happily receiving one for my 9th birthday? Another potentially sad admission, depending on how you look at it. But anyway, shout-out to my first cousin once-removed who might actually be reading this because he’s a LinkedIn connection, and who inscribed that thesaurus with an encouraging note about my future career as a writer. Thanks, John!)
But can’t I just use a spelling or grammar checker?
You can and should use these tools as a back-up. For sure. They might help you spot something you hadn’t seen.
But in my experience, they can’t replace the eagle-eye of a human proofreader who can make human judgements about which words to use considering your intended message and audience.
For example, most spellcheckers can pick up if a word is misspelled, but not whether it’s the correct word to use (think principal vs principle, it’s vs its, practice vs practise, licence vs license, effect vs affect, etc.).
None can ensure your document adheres to your specific brand and style guide, including its recommended writing style and tone of voice.
And none can check that your client’s name is spelled correctly before you spend $30,000 on printing.
And yes, I made that figure up. But I stand by it because I think it helped me make my point.
Proofreaders. Don’t hate us because we talk about conjunctions. Love us because we care.
Even if you’re still a bit worried about us.
Need an important document proofread? Contact us at Hummingbird Writing.
This post was written by Louise Correcha, founder of Hummingbird Writing.