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.

Phoenix from the Ashes – Happy New Year!

My first company was called HG Phoenix.  It didn’t last long – I met Joyce and it quickly got absorbed into what is now CoomberSewell Enterprises.  As any business which has survived the ashes of 2020 may be doing right now, I’ve been thinking about the symbolism of the phoenix from the ashes. I’ve been thinking about the future and how sometimes to move forward, we need to acknowledge our backgrounds and how we are the product of our upbringings, for good or ill.

New Beginnings

When I started HG Phoenix, I’d just resigned from a job with a boss who later had a class action taken out against them for bullying.  The choice of Phoenix was the obvious one. I was rising from the ashes of my tattered confidence, but there was also a family connection.  My mum always told stories of a distant ancestor called Sarah Phoenix Perfect, who, she had always been led to believe ‘came from the gypsies’.  I couldn’t call the company ‘Perfect Proofreading’. That would be opening myself up to all sorts of trouble, but I had always had a romantic fascination with SPP, as I call her in my head. I never believed the ‘gypsy’ tales but resolved that if I ever wrote romantic or erotic fiction, this would be my pen name.  I haven’t written the novel (yet). Years on however, my parents have genealogy as their major non-faith pastime and it turns out its probably true. SPP is real, and she was adopted into the family from a traveller background.  As my theology colleague Steven Horne can attest, traveller records can be a little… oral, so after that, the trail goes cold.

Background

The HG was simple – my father’s middle initials, and I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl.  It was with my parents’ faith in me, and encouragement from an unforeseen quarter, that I set out on my new adventure.  The internationally renowned jazz singer and radio presenter Clare Teal, who I knew a little and whose opinion I value to this day, encouraged me to do what I was passionate about and made me happy. The rest would follow.  The path has been winding, but CoomberSewell Enterprises is a quietly successful business.  Some people question the use of the word Enterprises, but we use it as a reflection of our mindset; innovative, enterprising, hopeful and kind.

Moving Forward

As you shake the ashes of 2020 off your feet, whatever it has cost you whether that is your job, family members or security, I encourage you to look at the strong foundations your upbringing has provided you, however barren the landscape looks.  I totally acknowledge my good fortune in my upbringing in have hard working parents who instilled strong values in me.  No family situation is perfect, and others will have got their strengths and values despite their upbringing.  Nevertheless, that is where the stories we tell ourselves are rooted.  If you are having trouble seeing the wood from the ash, do contact us for a mentoring session with Joyce.

Work Life Balance at Christmas

Joyce and I have made the decision to close the business for a few days over Christmas for the sake of work life balance.  Actually, that’s not true, we’ve agreed that unless the work is already in the diary, from the evening of 22nd December to the morning of 4th January, we’re not taking any more work on.  I have one student to see and one small proof reading job in that time.  It’s time for some Us time.  I last opened an email connected to my school work on 19th December.  So, there’s the first commitment broken, that was supposed to be 18th December.  It’s the morning of 21st December and I’m already fighting the guilt.

Work life balance is a funny thing, especially if you are in any way self-employed, if you work in education, academia, or any of those other industries where the assumption that your good will means that you will go far beyond your job description.  Already, I have a list of at least 5 tasks to be tackled over our ‘leave’ and 4 of them are career or business related.

The See-Saw of Work life balance

For all of us, but particularly for the self-employed, balancing the see-saw (teeter-totter for my American friends) of work/life can be very hard.  There is a strong temptation to say, well, if I just do a half day on my emails, I can get a head start on the first day back… That is the thin end of a sticky wedge.  Yes, most of us went into self-employment to do what we love, but it is too easy to spend the quiet times on the bits we don’t love.  I’ve just spent nearly two full days catching up on the accounts.  Yes, it needed to be done, but did it have to be done right now, in the run up to what is left of Christmas?

Prioritisation

Often, I work with my students on managing both their study and their personal time, in the full knowledge that I could always be somewhat better at it myself.  There are many charts, apps and tables you can use to help with this – just google it, or look at Stella Cottrell’s Study Skills Handbook, a great investment for academics and students alike (The link is to Abe Books, other book sellers are available).  My favourite tool, however, was originated by Dale Carnegie.  I probably don’t have the copyright to reproduce the tools here, so let me just ask the pivotal question.  In your planning, do you consider what is important, or simply what is urgent? It sows the seed in our minds, that if something is only urgent, but not actually important, perhaps there is no need to do it at all?

Take a Beat

Unplug by Jess Bailey via Unsplash

So, as we run up to what is going to be a Christmas like no other (I write this while the news that we are in Tier 4 is still sinking in), I am asking you, telling you, maybe even begging you, to think about what is important, not what is urgent.  For me, this will be Zooming family and friends, going for walks, digging fresh spud and picking fresh Brussel sprouts for our Christmas Dinner.  It will be sitting through the Dr Who New Year special with the young members of the household, because they enjoy watching it with us.  It will be taking a breath.  So, by all means, contact us for mentoring, proof reading, or whatever else it was that is urgent that we can do for you, but also, sit down for five minutes to make important plans.

Ethical Dilemmas: Can you fake it till you make it with integrity?

This blog was partly inspired by communications I’ve had with close friends and family about confidence, imposter syndrome and the rational knowledge we have skills, whether we realise it or not.  My best friend, Lou, has launched a new career as a photographer, while also changing her day job, and we talked about the gender issues connected with confidence, and whether those thoughts still hold in the 21st century.  In that 2-hour meandering way that best friends do, we came to the conclusion that you just have to fake it till you make it.  But how do you do that with integrity?

Integrity

Now, I have to say, I have a roller coaster ride relationship with integrity.  In my Civil Service days, I hadn’t even considered the need for it, and was quite happy to get down and dirty with and against my colleagues, stealing placings and whatever it took to hit target.  Now, I see integrity as an ideal that, as soon as you accept that it can never be reached, you get a lot closer to attaining.  It is impossible to get through life without telling small fibs, these are called tact and discretion.  Nobody needs to know everything, all the time, indeed, if they did, it would be disastrous.

Integrity is about the small things.  If you say you will be at a meeting at 9am, be there at 8.55.  If you promise somebody some work in two years’ time, and then fall out with that person, as has happened in my working life once or twice, do the work anyway.  Be the bigger person.  You don’t have to become their best friend again, just keep your word to the best of your ability and move on.

Fake it till you make it

Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

But what about that old career adage, ‘Fake it till you make it’.  The problem is keeping control of the fakery.  Dressing for the job you want rather than the one you have is all very well, but is it ok to tell people you already have that job when you don’t?

Well of course not.  Is it OK to display confidence in your knowledge when you still have information to check?  Yes, within limits.  I always had more respect for my trainers when they answered one of my notoriously nitty gritty questions with ‘I’ll check that over lunch and get back to you’ than waffled on with what was obviously a shaky answer on a very narrow foundation.

Imposter Syndrome

There are times when you have total integrity but it feels like you are faking it.  This is really the epitome of imposter syndrome.  Here is mine: I am the world’s leading academic researching Joyce Grenfell.  This is, at the moment of writing, a true statement, and has been for the last 5 years.  There are 3 other experts on Joyce Grenfell: Janie Hampton, Maureen Lipman and James Roose-Evans.  None of them are academics and none of them have done any active work on Grenfell for nearly 2 decades.  Therefore, the statement is true because I am the ONLY Joyce Grenfell academic in the world.  Other academics acknowledge the validity of my claim to the leading academic in this field,  but it feels like a lie. So, we can say then that imposter syndrome is when you have integrity but it feels like you don’t.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I have a Joyce CoomberSewell who has, throughout our married lives, coached me in my continuing journey to building a stronger relationship with integrity, taught me skills to fake it till I make it with that integrity still in tact and has booted imposter syndrome out of my life on a weekly basis.  If you would like her to do the same for you, CONTACT US today.