Friday, 24 February 2012

Doing Your Best

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 and on my facebook page.

Thanks for all your posts. I'm learning a lot from everyone!


  1. I read a one-liner yesterday to the effect that writing is creative and editing is destructive, which is why it's hard to do both well.

    I'm not sure I agree about proofreading and editing being destructive though - my view is more in line with your interpretation, that good editing and proofreading is about making something better.

    Excellent post!

  2. Great post, Jackie. I'm glad there are proofreaders because sometimes I need help with some of my grammar, but I'm always willing to learn. Keep up the good work. Blessings, Laura.

    1. Hi Jackie,
      Yep, you're the final filter before the work goes out there. Very responsible job. I think it would be easier for all of us if English speaking countries didn't insist on having different rules from each other :)

  3. Yes, these days, writers can't just be writers. We also have to be editors, marketers, and so on. Even though publishers may have editors to let loose on our drafts once accepted, we have to get our drafts as polished as possible before they'll be accepted. Ergo, the best way to get professional editorial involvement is to show that you don't need it. ;)

    And I hope you realise, Jackie, that everyone will have scrutinised your post closely for errors. ;) And let's not talk about starting sentences with conjunctions.

  4. Thanks for that Jackie. I love proof reading myself and used to proof read all the other programmers User manuals in the Computer I company I worked for (as an Analyst Programmer) in the good old days. I love to edit too - even my own work. It's fun isn't it? :)

    I liked Peter's comment that the best way to get professional editorial involvement is to show you don't need it. Great thinking there Peter! :)

    Thanks for your thoughts Jackie - and I shall check out your website in a moment. Many thanks for that too.
    Blessings and Happy proof reading! The proof of the manuscript is in the reading? :)

  5. A great post, Jackie. I've been published by both Australian and American publishers and still get confused with the punctuation! We also read so much that originates from the US and often hard to "unlearn" the differences. I remember one multi-published author saying at a conference her editor asked her to delete heaps of commas only to have the proof editor replace them!

  6. I'm sure your not boring Jackie,and your website looks great.

  7. great post Jackie, I have a friend who was doing a proofreading course to try get work proofreading. She was reading out some of the paragraphs which she had to correct. She isn't a writer and it was interesting how she was correcting it and almost taking to much out of the sentence. Yes she corrected the errors but she also changed the authors intent.
    I can see who being a good proof reader would be quite valuable.
    Im not a writer but I did quite a few reports last year for TAFE and now editing the Church Newsletter. I find it's when I read it out loud or reread it later I see errors.

  8. I think sometimes too, as writers, we go over our own work so many times, we no longer see the errors. Many pairs of eyes checking over it gives it the best chance of being totally correct. I know I've missed glaringly obvious mistakes which someone else - thank goodness - has picked up. Thanks for sharing.

  9. You've just got to have a ton of patience, Jackie. But thank the Lord for excellent proof readers! My biggest goof is placing a "z" in place of an "s". I like the look of it, but of course we have to go with the rules! At least we can break a few, nowadays. Hey Peter, I often begin with a conjunction for effect even if my Word doc doesn't approve! As for commas, it seems they're really a subjective choice as many of us have discovered. And now I'm off to check out your site, too.

  10. Jackie, you are kind of my hero. I don't know how you do it. Proof reading and editing is a very hard job. I am certainly learning a lot and making huge improvements as I continue with my writing.

  11. I've met Jackie and would just like to say that she isn't boring at all.
    Great post too, Jackie. A challenge to get my Little Green Grammar book back out again as this is certainly not my area of strength!