"Two sets of eyes, minimum"
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve been asked, “Why do you charge as much for proofreading as you do for writing?” I couldn’t retire. But I could fill a swear jar.
At Precision Wordage, we follow the rule “two sets of eyes, minimum.” No matter how good the writer, no matter how clean a draft, whether you write it or we do, an author cannot proof his own work.
What skill set does it take to do a good proof job?
The most vital skill is the ability to spell. Spell checkers can catch flagrant misspellings, but won’t catch those nasty homonymic errors. “He road the hoarse across the open rode, ignoring his horse cough.” You see what I mean.
The next skill is grammar. When I was a kid, I used to diagram sentences for fun. It came as a shock to discover that diagramming hasn’t been taught for decades. Makes me feel old. The PWI team knows their syntax (the rules for forming words into correct sentences) cold.
Then there’s style. The basic bible for publishing is The Chicago Manual of Style. But then there’s the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Writing, and who knows how many other upstart new publications to cover the morass of media rules, regs, recks and refusals on grammar relating to technology, not to mention classics like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Our guys know `em all. And then some.
A proofer has to be able to think. For example, we deal with a lot of new technology, with scores of words that didn’t exist twenty years ago. If the proofer hits a term that’s spelled inconsistently in a client’s document, he’ll go online and search until he finds the most common usage, and recommend that the client use it that way. And he’ll stick it in the style notes for the job. If the client wants to spell a word differently, that’ll go in the style notes as well. And the proofer will know that with client A he always uses “dingles,” but client B expects “Dingles” to always be capitalized.
In proofreading, like most things in life, there are no absolutes. But we come close when it comes to catching those pesky little errors that detract from a document’s polish.