The other day, while I was going through an abstract the organizing committee had received for an International Conference, written by a research scholar, and I cringed internally when I came across a grammatical mistake. Mind you, I am not talking about a status update that a person would have put up on a social media platform without giving it a second thought, but a research paper sent in by an academician with mistakes in it.
Is it really that hard to take a few minutes to proofread and/or edit your work before putting it up somewhere or sending it to someone? What is the reason for such negligence anyway?
I have noticed that most of us rarely consider it important to proofread something once or twice before sending it to someone. It could be something as simple as an email or something a lot more serious like a research paper or an article you are writing for a website. With Internet lingos and emoticons forming a major part of our conversations thanks to smartphones, we forget that “its” and “it’s” or “there”, “they’re” and “their” are words with completely different meanings. Further, we are constantly in a hurry and so don’t consider it important enough to allocate some time for specifically proofreading a written piece.
Why is it important to proofread anything though?
I have seen/received emails from Professors as well as corporate professionals with mistakes and inadvertently, end up judging them for the same. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of such judgment. The saying “ the first impression is the best impression” has some merit to it, even if people claim that they don’t judge a book by its cover. In a professional setting, you do not want to start off on the wrong foot by making silly errors or saying “accept” instead of “except” in your email. You do not want to be dismissed as someone who is negligent/careless with the way they write.
Secondly, you will come across as professional when you pay attention to small details. It is but human to make mistakes and so, proofreading it once or twice will make sure you do not make any embarrassing mistakes in your write-up.
Sometimes, it’s easy for you to overlook mistakes when you’re proofreading your own work. Hence it’s always better to get a friend or a trusted acquaintance to proofread your work if you’re going to be sending it to someone important. Small things like usage of tenses, singular/plural verbs, etc. are things that could be easily overlooked and you do not want that.
Editing is as crucial (if not more than) as proofreading is. They both go hand in hand. Proofreading will give you a sense of not just mistakes in any write-up, but also give you a better understanding of how to change a few sentences here and there to make them sound better. Though having a rich vocabulary is great, there really is no point to it unless your audience understands what you’re saying. Only if the person receiving it reads your text in the way it was originally intended will the communication process be effective and complete. Hence, editing. Cut out that long sentence, do away with informal language that would have crept in involuntarily and make your work sound as professional, clear and unambiguous as possible.
While editing (or writing as well), it is also important to keep your target audience in mind. A friend who works on organismal biology words things very differently when he explains something to a layman like me versus how he would discuss his work with his colleagues. Likewise, you’ll automatically be conscious of your choice of words and the way you frame sentences when you keep your target audience in mind. Having said that, do not use fancy words or jargon just to impress someone. When your writing is not organic and you struggle with it, it somehow comes through in your written work and it would then seem forced or superficial even. Remember, it’s better to use simple words than to be misunderstood or judged.
And finally, a major rule when it comes to editing is – be ruthless. For a lot of people like me who have narcissistic tendencies when it comes to their written work, it can be a little tough. But, it’s better to develop a thick skin when you edit your own work and only keep what is absolutely necessary for that piece of write-up. Yes, it can be hard. But, it’s better for you to edit your own work before someone else does (trust me on this!)
Thanks to the fact that a lot of people do not have time to re-read their work (or the work of others), proofreading and editing have become lucrative areas when it comes to career opportunities. As a freelancer, you can choose to edit content from wherever you are. In fact, I have been editing content for a major corporate firm’s internal communication campaign part-time and it has been pretty rewarding and flexible. Publishing houses, as well as media firms, are generally on the lookout for good editors who can make their work sound better and (sometimes) make them sound smarter as well.
Apart from all this, ensuring you learn to edit and proofread your own work will also come in handy if you’re into say, journalism, public relations or corporate communications (apart from other obvious fields like content writing and content editing) as they involve a lot of written work.
So remember, your ability to spot a “your” in place of “you’re” could actually help you make a career (or at least a part-time career) if you keep your eyes and ears open.
About the Author:
After her bachelor’s degree, Nanditha worked with Google for a year and a half before volunteering and teaching in a Government school for six months which helped her understand more about grassroots education in India.
During her master’s, she developed an interest in development communication as a result of which, she interned with The Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative where she continues to volunteer. She has drafted handbooks and worked on curriculums around themes of peace and equality for the Foundation and now writes for an educational initiative Tale Weavers which aims to engage with children through stories that break stereotypes and promote peace and. She worked for a while with a start-up called “PeriFerry” that focusses on finding employment opportunities for transgender people and sensitizing workplaces on the importance of a diverse and inclusive work environment, where she took care of external communication.
Apart from all this, she works part-time as a content editor for a reputed firm in Chennai on one of their internal communication campaigns. Shortlisted for the Rising Star Awards conducted earlier this year, she is currently pursuing an M Phil in journalism and communication.