One of my publishing clients had a poster with the words “Did you Pruf your work?” displayed prominently in their offices. It was a constant reminder that the written word is full of pitfalls and proofreading your work is essential to good communication. However, proofreading your own work can be less than ideal.
A One-Digit Disaster
Quite a few years back one of my clients had created a new mailer for a financial seminar. Ten days after mailing he had still not received a single response. A few days after that, my client received a certified letter from a very angry person who was getting dozens of phone calls from people wishing to sign up for his seminar. My client looked at his brochure and his heart sank, he had printed 100,000 pieces with the wrong phone number.* Lesson: Always dial the phone number as it appears on the proof. And today – type in the website, e-mail address, Twitter account, etc..
Text messages and Tweets, by their nature, create short cuts to spelling and grammar. Those short cuts invariably affect our ability to create, as well as proof, a well-constructed sentence.
I would like to thank my former co-worker Kevin Tangney – an excellent proofreader with the following insights:
“The fundamental and rudimentary thing in proofreading is to have a knowledgeable, detail-oriented person carefully read the work of another. For 99% of people, reading your own work is of limited value at best; and although MS Word’s spell check is somewhat helpful, it does not replace proofreading. For example, MS Word cannot tell you when you use the wrong word and it’s the correct part of speech. If you type, “We hunkered down in the boot” instead of, “We hunkered down in the boat,”. Only a human can detect something like that.”
When writers and designers proof their own work they look for what they expect to see and therefore can miss errors. I have found that good proofreaders are similar to folks that can find a single 4-leaf clover in a patch of clover. Their brains are wired to detect the anomaly.
I also found this website with a long, but useful, collection of proofreading tips.
*The end result of that wrong phone number was that my client ended up buying that number, paid for notification of the changed number, paid to have a second mailing sent and fired the designer.