We editors and proofreaders rarely use a literal red pencil anymore (although I do know some who still print out their text and put those cryptic proofreading marks all over it—I do agree that it’s still easier to see errors in print than on screen). I still get the definite impression, though, that writers of all kinds of materials still greet us with an air of apprehension and a glance to locate their author shield for easy access in case of the need for defense.
So Many Judgments!
The editorial/proofreading eye is designed to make judgments, so writers and web page designers tend to feel judged when we discover things they didn’t see. It’s all about finding mistakes, which are always a little embarrassing. I can see the desire to avoid confronting one’s mistakes, and also the tendency to think that the editor or proofreader is also judging you personally and thinking you’re a “bad” person because you didn’t catch all the mistakes. Not so, though. We’re evaluating the text, not you as a person. Really!
The Fresh Set of Eyes
I can’t speak for all editors and proofreaders, but I’ve talked to enough of them to know that, yes, we do take pride in seeing what others might miss. But we also tend to have someone else proofread our stuff. Every mind makes assumptions, especially about material we’ve seen over and over again. I would never claim that this blog is error free, for example. That fresh set of eyes can make all the difference.
Lots of grammatical judgments in particularly have subjectivity written all over them. What works for one style of writing or one publishing house is forbidden with another. Just check out the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s filled with recommendations and preferences; less is set in stone than one would think. I have numerous style sheets for different clients to keep all their preferences straight. The main pattern we editors are often looking for is simple consistency for the benefit of the reader. You can stretch and even break “the rules” if you do it consciously and consistently. And one thing the editor can do for you is to make sure you are consistent within your own system (capitalization of important terms that are not normally capitalized comes to mind).
Flexibility in writing and editing is the way I like to work. It allows me to collaborate creatively with my writer and/or publisher to make for the best read for their audience. A scholarly book is not going to look like a stream-of-consciousness fiction. We have to be just as flexible as required for the folks we collaborate with.
So, contrary to “popular belief,” we proofreaders are not angry at mistakes or the ones who make them, nor are we out to puff up our egos by waving our “we’re right and you’re wrong” flags all over your story. 🙂
Seeking the Smooth Read
What do we really want? We just want to make the reader’s experience of a site or book or whatever, smooth and easy, and we want to avoid having that reader make negative judgments about the site and the person who’s offering the products or services based on some silly typo. These natural judgments that people make (that the person’s service lacks quality) are probably totally unjustified, but a little extra attention from a second set of eyes can be very valuable in projecting quality and gaining trust.
Yes, we and our “red pencil” really are your friend. The idea is to make your work the stuff people want to read.