Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thoughts From a (Hippie?) Proofreader

NOTE: Ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a person whose job it is to spot all the things we writers do wrong? Today's gust blogger, professional proofreader and part-time editor Dusty Fox, is ready to shed the light. -Charles


I wonder if I’m a proofreader by day and a hippie by night. When you think of a proofreader, what do you envision? Well, I’ll give you one hint: I’m a woman. Ok, so a suited woman, hair nicely styled in an updo of some type, glasses? 4-inch wide Merriam’s Dictionary lined up neatly with some other grammar reference books on her desk? A bit stodgy, don’t you think?

Good, I’m glad you agree. That is so not me. When Charles invited me to be a guest blogger on the Type M for Murder blog, he motivated me with thoughts on what would be interesting to read about: How did I study to become a proofreader? When I find errors in my own writing does it drive me up a wall? Do I fix my friends’ emails and send them back grammatically correct? These questions, among others, led me to a much deeper question: How has proofreading affected my life?

OK, a bit dramatic? Maybe. Let’s start with the easier questions first. I never studied to become a proofreader – I went to college for copywriting actually, and that’s how I ended up at Dixon Schwabl, the very same ad agency where Charles works. As a student of copywriting, I didn’t go home studying the dictionary late into the night, or take extensive English classes for that matter. I just practiced exercises for creative thinking, reviewed lots of award-winning work, and practiced writing clever ads, billboards, radio spots, etc. A copywriting internship under my belt (and an extremely tough career field not acting in my favor for my initial two and a half years out of college), a junior level creative position opened at the agency, and I came onboard. More than a year and a half later, and with a flashy new title in tow, proofreading is just one of my daily responsibilities.

And before I get back to some of the whining I have in store for this posting, let me just say how great a proofreader’s job really can be. I get to read the work of all the writers in our agency, weigh in on what makes sense and what doesn’t, and ultimately make sure we’re sending out the best copy possible. Pretty cool, huh? The great thing about our agency (and our writers) is that with my copywriting background I can always throw in my suggestions on improving copy that we’re sending out into the marketplace, along with my regular proofreading comments (“delete the extra space after that period,” “yes, ‘desert’ as in the Sahara is spelled with one ‘s,’ not two,” and “that client likes us to keep the word ‘team’ in all caps – it’s kind of their thing”).

Now regarding my own writing, I’m probably a bit tougher on myself than the other writers. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve sent out an agency-wide email, gone back and read it, and found a mistake. Ooh, that never goes over well. Then comes the eternal struggle of whether to “reply all,” admit my mistake, and offer a correction, or just ignore it and assume all the non-proofreaders of the world won’t even notice my error. I usually side with the latter offering. Just because I’m a self-admitted copy freak who notices inconsistent usage of a series comma, doesn’t mean the team down in media gives a hoot.

Well that leads me to the big question I posed earlier: How has proofreading affected my life? I can’t not notice when something written is wrong any more. I’ll be minding my own business, driving down the highway, and notice a billboard with the word “cooperation” spelled “coperation.” Or reading a book, and catch a double “or” (as in, “I’d better let the publisher know about this mistake or or they’ll print it again in the reprint). Luckily, that hippie part I mentioned earlier sneaks in and keeps me from getting too worked up about it.

Oh, and back to the last question posed from Charles above: Do I fix my friends’ emails and send them back grammatically correct? No. A flat no. And if I ever do, I expect that friend to send me one dirrrrty reply email, telling me to mind my own bizness.

(Lastly, if you find a typo above, I wouldn’t be surprised. Just because I’m a proofreader doesn’t mean grammar is always my best friend. Can we ignore it or or will I have to post a “reply all” type message in the comments section?)


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Hah, I am so relieved! I spot mistakes when I pick up one of my own books in a store, which inhibits me from peeking once they're on the shelves. (What a clunky sentence. Couldn't I have used a more evocative verb?) It never ends.

Vicki Delany said...

I always notice misplaced apostrophes in signs along the road. You know the sort of thing: Mechanic's Wanted.

Rick Blechta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Blechta said...

Charles, what's a "gust blogger"?


Charles benoit said...

Anybody can be a guest blogger. It takes some one extra special - like Dusty - to be a gust blogger.