Editing and Proofreading

The Art of Nit-Picking

Everyone knows someone who points out spelling or grammatical errors on social media. I used to be one of those people; nowadays I don’t bother enough with it to post snarky comments, though I wince as I scroll on by.

My day job, however, is different. I work in an Administration department, which isn’t really administration, but written customer service. We deal with the letters and emails; the Call Centre deals with the phone calls. The letters and emails which we write and send (which are supposed to be bespoke) are quality controlled. We are audited for, among other things, spelling and grammatical errors. Which is all well and good, except…

We have templates for certain, common responses, or requests for information. Sometimes, there are problems with these templates, like their availability on various accounts. ‘Proper’ problems. Problems which affect everyone, or, at least, those who are less experienced at the whole letter-writing aspect of the role.

Most of these issues haven’t yet affected me. I tend not to use the templates because of one, to me, rather major issue. When I mentioned it at a meeting about the templates, the meeting fell about laughing. Apparently, I was the only one to have noticed, or cared, and these templates have been in use since before I started there. Sometimes, the information required is a list of things: names, dates, addresses, references. Generally speaking, for some bizarre reason, these lists are headed by a semi-colon. I know, right? It irritates me far too much. If I do use the templates, I re-write the entire paragraph. They’re usually poorly phrased anyway.

What irritated me more than the fact that my colleagues laughed at my concern was that the person who does the quality control also laughed. This does not bode well for decent quality control, if they can’t spot such a silly error. Either we lose quality marks due to the mistake (which, frankly, shouldn’t happen, given that it is an already-approved template; not that this is an excuse for not proof-reading it first anyway and changing it), or we don’t, in which case how do we accept quality control from someone who doesn’t understand colons and semi-colons?

Proof-reading is about finding errors, and caring enough to correct them. It’s about reading a text and jabbing a red pen at every single mistake, even if you can still read the text and understand it. It’s about caring that the words are all spelt correctly, and that the apostrophes, and commas, and colons, and semi-colons are used correctly.

At the point at which I’m at in this course I’m doing, it’s about the correction symbols. Having discovered an error, a note needs to be made so that the person who will actually correct the manuscript knows what’s wrong and what needs to be done. Only, of course, over the centuries, a short-hand symbol system has been developed, so the corrector doesn’t have to try and decipher a mass of scrawled notes squished between the lines of the manuscript.

This is probably entirely sensible. Cramped handwriting is never easy to read. However, now I must learn a lot of new symbols – the pdf file runs to some 18 pages – plus their meanings. In order to do this, I am in the process of creating a hand-written list of symbols. Colour-coded and neatly (ish) labelled. I find it easier to process information if I’ve written it down as well as read it. Encourages the brain to remember.

Then, I’ll have to work on making my corrections neat and tidy.




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