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Improve Life for Your Proofreader

I recently led two proofreading workshops for an organization. At the beginning of both sessions, I asked attendees what causes them to miss errors in documents when they proofread.

They mentioned some of the usual reasons: short deadlines that limit proofreading time, multitasking, relying on their grammar and spelling checker, not relying on it enough, and being overly familiar with the content.

They also mentioned a reason for missing errors that I do not often hear: They work for several bosses, and their bosses often have differing preferences for the final versions of documents.

For example, one boss may want all professional titles (such as “Senior Vice President”) capitalized; another prefers them lower case. One insists on the serial comma; another does not want it. (The serial comma is the comma before and in a series such as “managers, employees, and contractors.”) One likes to end bullet points with periods; another prefers semicolons for that purpose.

For the people tasked with proofreading under short deadlines, trying to remember and meet the different needs of a variety of people can cause needless stress. This stress leads to less effective proofreading because it reduces one’s ability to focus. 

Also, when writers “correct” things their proofreader has changed, they sometimes introduce new errors.

I suggested a company style guide, which everyone could agree to follow. However, the individuals in my proofreading classes did not believe their bosses would agree to agree with one another on style.

Would you?

Would you agree to agree with others if you knew it would lead to reduced errors in proposals, letters, and bids that go out on your company letterhead? Would you agree to a company style guide if you knew it would reduce stress in the administrative assistant’s work life?

I suggest we do whatever we can, within reason, to improve the lives of our proofreaders and the accuracy of our documents. Perhaps that means allowing a bit more time so proofreaders can do the job rather than simply performing a grammar and spelling check. Maybe it means buying the latest style manuals to help them sharpen their skills. And maybe it means agreeing to a company style guide.

What do you do to improve proofreading at your company?

Learn about our upcoming public classes, including Proofreading Like a Pro. 

Syntax Training  

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

8 comments on “Improve Life for Your Proofreader”

  • Just think of all that time (and therefore money) people are wasting redoing work to satisfy the egos of various managers!

    Perhaps the way to get the bosses to agree on a style guide is to show them how much more efficient they’ll be as an organisation?

  • A style guide is such a good idea. In my niche, there is much debate about the use of the word health care versus healthcare. Another common battle is the use of the word payor versus payer. With a style guide, you eliminate the word war and achieve consistency (even if it’s wrong). 😉

    I also think the selection of the AP or Chicago style is another great suggestion. I write white papers where citing sources is critical.

    Thanks for some simple and effective solutions, Lynn.

  • Hi, CTrappe, Randy, Clare, and Cathy. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    I agree that the company should choose a style manual. I like AP because it is concise and clear. But I often recommend THE GREGG REFERENCE MANUAL because it includes more information that business communicators need, for example, tips on email and the parts of business letters.

    Randy, I appreciate your eloquence.

    Clare, I like your energy.

    Cathy, thanks for your good examples. I can see disagreements between “payer” and “payor.” Which side has won that battle?


  • I agree, the best way is to have a common style guide. However, different corporate groups may have different needs that one style guide may not address adquately.

    For example a communications group may advocate for AP while technical writing groups (including legal and regulatory groups) want a guide that recognizes style is externally driven and clarity is key.

    My personal bias is that AP does not enhance clarity so as a technical/legal writer, I prefer something else (currently using Gregg but also have the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing on my desk – not exactly a style guide.)

  • Yes, this company needs a style guide. My company relies heavily on one to ensure consistency with all its printed and online materials.

    We based ours on AP because it’s the simplest and most familiar to readers. We added exceptions where they made sense for our business and clients.

    If a company wants to build such a style guide, its leaders should expect to expend a lot of time on it. It took years of on-again, off-again labor from several people to build our style guide, and takes several people several hours quarterly to maintain it. It really needs some cleaning-up, to remove outdated references and redundancies, but no one ever has the time to do this.

    To get buy-in for style guide updates, we formed a committee of stakeholders from around the business and people who showed passion for style. We meet quarterly to discuss changes. Not everyone agrees on the committee’s decisions, but we all agree to live with them.

  • Jennifer, I am glad you stopped by and mentioned the varying style guide needs of different work groups. A technical group might try the MICROSOFT MANUAL OF STYLE, which was updated in 2012. I often find technical style issues covered there but not in other guides.


  • Diane, thanks for presenting a realistic picture of the tasks of instituting and maintaining a company style guide.

    My favorite part of your comment was this statement: “Not everyone agrees on the committee’s decisions, but we all agree to live with them.” It is enviable that you have agreement on that.


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