I'm a proofreader. In my job, I'm the last line of defence before printed material for clients goes to print. I have to pick-up every spelling mistake, make the right call on hyphens, find capitalisation errors and fix punctuation problems.
Most of the work I do is for Christian organisations, helping them with their fundraising. These ministries depend on me to make sure they have first-rate material going into the public arena. If I miss errors then the ministry whose work I check ends up having a low quality newsletter or appeal. But also, I lose my credibility with the company who co-ordinates these jobs - they don't know if they can trust me to proofread accurately.
How can I make sure errors don't happen? It would help if writer got things right first but, as we are all aware, creative people are not necessarily detail-oriented. They get the brilliant ideas and put the writing down then do their best to tidy up, but they don't see the things that editors and proofreaders do.
I'm not an editor, and I'm not even a trained proofreader… but I'm a detail nut and it has largely earned me some credibility. I've had to research and learn about grammar and punctuation and I'm still learning. I have half-a-dozen books on this including two on Australian grammar and punctuation, because some is different to American. I've had to make it my own mission to get all the facts. I've had to learn about American styles so I can Australianise some writing (e.g., look up 'Oxford commas' online). I've had to learn about subject/verb agreement, hyphens vs en-dashes vs em-dashes, brackets and colons and a lot more.
And it's still possible to miss errors even after reading through a document two or three times. (Don't trust the spell-checker.)
Writers need to know as much as they can about grammar and punctuation even though publishers often cover these things with their editors. There are books written by nationally and internationally renowned authors, which are published by big publishers, and that have errors in them so it can't hurt to build our skills.
Right now, as I'm writing, my husband is in our garage using his power tools and annoying the neighbours on a quiet Saturday afternoon. He hates annoying them, but he has things he needs to do. He makes sure he buys the right nails and glue for each type of wood. And he knows how to maintain and use each tool correctly and safely so his finished product is as he first imagined it. Authors have a responsibility to know how to use their writing tools well so there's a nicely finished product that will stand when tested.
If you bake scones you know that you can do a basic scone with flour, butter and milk. But if you understand how all the ingredients work with each other - their science - you can tweak the recipe and approach to improve it.
Learn as much as you have time to about grammar and punctuation but remember there are different grammar and punctuation rules for American 'English' and Australian 'English' so make sure you use resources correct for where your writing is going to be published initially.
As a person, I'm pretty boring to be with but, for the sake of becoming a known writer, I've ramped up my image a bit online and you can read more about me at jackierandall.com and on my facebook page.
Thanks for all your posts. I'm learning a lot from everyone!