The Lost Art Of Proofreading

By | May 27, 2009

I am an amateur proofreader; I would like to be a professional proofreader. To date, however, all my work has been volunteer and includes several MSc theses, a few academic papers, numerous Arch Linux newsletters, and two unpublished novels. I enjoy the process of proofreading, of axing unnecessary words, of caressing, cajoling, or cursing the right sound into a written sentence. You see, proofreading is not just about grammar. Its about cadence, flow, style, and rhythm. Above all, its about communication.

And it’s a lost art. I estimate that at least 90 percent of articles on the Internet these days are posted without review or revision. While this is obvious in youtube comments and web forum postings, it also includes countless articles by professional journalists from well-known news agencies. Indeed, some of the worst writing I read each day arrives via Google news results. Independently authored blog articles may be better; they can range from quick thoughtless posts to elegantly crafted prose. Sadly, the majority of authors simply write their article and forget about it.

We are always in a hurry to get information to the masses. News isn’t news if its not new. Why proofread when the information you’re posting is going to be irrelevant in a few hours? First Post! McDonalds has taken over our writing. I want that burger in 43 seconds. Don’t worry about the taste, just serve it quicky. No no, I don’t care if its healthy, I don’t have time to think about that. I’m in a hurry, you see.

I have to get this article posted before my coffee cools down.

It’s a race, a race to provide new information or insights before anyone else. A race that ignores, discards, even condemns quality. A race that defines our society.

Have you ever read something and thought to yourself, “I love how that’s worded. It’s beautiful”? Possibly not — I could be peculiar that way. More often, though, I end up thinking, “What a lovely sentiment; too bad they butchered the wording.” There need to be more beautiful essays. Essays that are a joy to read, and not just a chore to understand.

Style matters.

In four posts to this blog, I have covered an introduction, a software concept, a technical article, and a social discussion. These articles have but one thing in common: I wrote and posted each one immediately. I didn’t proofread them. Sure I read through them once, maybe twice before clicking “Publish”, but that’s not proofreading. Proofreading involves letting the essay marinate for a few hours, maybe days, before posting, then carefully revising — from a reader’s perspective. I didn’t do that.

But this time I will. This post can wait a day or two to be consumed by the public. From now on, that ‘Save Draft’ button is going to get a lot more use.

If you’re not looking to hire a semi-professional proofreader/editor for your next written work, maybe you should think about it. If you think about it, think about me. I’m available and I’m sure we can agree on a rate.

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