Proofreaders – the goalkeepers of Quality Assurance

Danele Buso, Unsplash
Danele Buso, Unsplash

When you get on a plane, it’s filthy dirty and you watch the neighbouring plane having its luggage thrown carelessly out of the cargo hold, do you think to yourself, ‘I hope the mechanics were a bit more thorough’? Yet very few companies have their websites and service level agreements quality checked before putting them out in the public domain.

Then the trouble starts.  A client pushes their luck and there’s nothing you can do because your service level agreement has a gaping hole in it. Your website promises the earth because in your familiarity with the text, you didn’t notice you missed a word out.  That word is normally ‘not’, so you’ve just promised the exact opposite of what you’ve intended.

If all this seems logical, my question is, why aren’t you engaging the services of a proofreader?  It doesn’t have to be me, although of course I’d prefer it if it was.

Would any team, football, ice hockey or netball, take to the pitch/ice/court without a goalkeeper?  I think not.  Yet the majority of PhD students won’t pay to have their theses proofread until they’ve been given minor corrections.

If this seems like a false economy to you, why not change this?

What is proofreading?

Officially, proofreading is checking for spelling, grammar, punctuation and sense.  This is different from editing.  Proofreaders aren’t responsible for making sure you stay ‘on message’ or that you don’t have a glaring hole in your plot or argument.  In truth, those of us who are good, and who have a sense of integrity, are not going to set you up to fail like that. We  will go out of their way to pick you up on those things.

Markus Spiske, Unsplash

Officially, proofreaders don’t make changes.  They make suggestions for improvement.  Many of us have worked in some kind of training, teaching or other empowering roles, so our reports do sometimes read like marking, but we don’t use red pens!  In fact, these days we mainly use computers, but traditionally we use blue pencils.  My great aunt was a proofreader for the BBC World Service and I still have some of her reassuringly chunky pencils.  One is in a memory box; the rest are still being used for their original purpose on the rare occasions I get a printed out manuscript.  The work is in my blood.

So, my question is, do you treat your quality assurance and proofreading like a ropy Sunday League team, who puts the kid who turns up every week, full of enthusiasm, but with no aptitude, in goal?  Or do you treat it in the same way the first division teams do, investing in trained, experienced personnel, and encouraging and empowering them with as much information and support as possible?  If you want to move the quality of all your words to the premier league, contact us now.

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