Priceless power of proofreading | Nandell Palmer

Do you have difficulty spelling words like picaresque, minutiae, principal, paean, harassment, embarrassment or liaison?

How about punctuation? Do you hemorrhage over whether the quotation mark should go before or after the period? Do you depend on spell check as your final editing tool?

Have you found yourself more and more mixing business with pleasure in your written communication on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter?

If you answered yes to the aforementioned questions, then you could benefit from a few proofreading tips.

I know people who would readily wrestle a lion for an hour than spend five minutes editing or proofreading a one-paragraph memo — even for themselves. Why such fear of the written word? I cannot explain.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Proofreading is more than just spotting typos, non-aligned margins or grammatical errors. Even people with graduate degrees from Ivy League schools would not know how to proofread/edit if they have not been trained in those areas. The universal proofreader’s symbols would be Greek to them.

Knowing basic proofreading could save you, and earn you, a lot of money. Most seasoned proofreaders today in New York City can earn up to $35 per hour.

Law firms, financial companies, marketing agencies, advertising agencies and medical centers are some of the places you can find employment with proofreading skills.

Lacking proofreading skills can cost you a lot of money and embarrassment. One school district in Florida had to fork out thousands of dollars to repair a school-crossing sign painted on the road because it was spelled “shcool” instead of “school.”

Being a good speller or having a powerful vocabulary doesn’t come overnight. Like anything else, you have to work at it. You don’t have to use “big” words, but it doesn’t hurt to know what they mean.

Punctuation frightens a lot of us. And with global correspondence, people are at a loss as to what is right or wrong. For example, in England, the quotation mark goes before the period, while in the United States, it goes after. Abbreviations like Dr., Ms., Mr., etc., are written without a period in England.

The spell check is a love/hate kind of tool. While it is very handy to have around, don’t ever fully depend on it. A spell check cannot predict your intentions; therefore, it will not show the red line under “grate” for “great” or “their” for “they’re.”

Social media is a godsend for many of us, but more and more, people have begun using it to market their businesses. That is a very delicate road to walk. While readers would be more forgiving with “texting” terminologies like BRB (“Be right back”) and HBU (“How about you?”) in a social blog, they will not be so forgiving in a corporate medium.

For many years after playing Mister in “The Color Purple,” Danny Glover was stoned out of countless cities across America by angry women who were still fuming from that haunting movie. After “Mississippi Burning,” everybody thought that Oscar-winner Frances McDormand was from Mississippi and uneducated.

Both actors were convincing in their roles because they stayed in character. What does that have to do with writing or proofreading? Zilch. It has to do with a consistent brand “personality” that my friend Gin Hammond would call “staying in character.”

For example, if you spell “email” without a hyphen on your Web site, don’t spell it with a hyphen in print catalogs. If you quote Federal Way Mayor Linda Kochmar, don’t call her Linda in one reference, then Kochmar or Mrs. Kochmar in other references.

Upholding this element of consistency calls for an editorial “police.” But don’t let that alarm you as every media house has its own style: New York Times, Chicago Times, Associated Press, just to name a few. You, too, can create your in-house style for your company.

My parting advice to you: Avoid being the sole proofreader of your own writing. Those words are too sacrosanct for you to spot mistakes. Also, don’t try to find every mistake at once. Read through the document several times, each time looking for either typos, misspellings, ambiguity or formatting problems.

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