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 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?
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