Many magazines don’t seem to proofread their content at all, or they hate proofing — and it shows. On average, I read from about 10 magazines a week. Almost half the time I find basic errors like double-sentences, absent punctuation, sometimes even entire doppelganger paragraphs. Spelling typos are the usual, however. What does it matter, right? Why should proofreading ruin our lives?
Actually, errors matter a great deal. People judge. That’s kind of what we do. We can’t help it. We’re assessing everyone all the time, 24-7, from their choice of music or clothes right down to the color shoelaces they chose to wear with their $100 sneakers. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we judge most harshly those who go to great trouble to create great content. Magazines are elevated to a higher level than a blog post. Magazines are supposed to be final, every bit as much as a printed edition of a book. Errors happen, but they’re not supposed to happen frequently in a magazine.
“Okay, okay, I get it grammar nazi! What should I do then?”
First of all, settle down. Just kidding. :p Second of all, I’ll tell you what you can do.
Use a good grammar and spell check tool before proofing
This one’s for the writers (and editors). Obviously, the writer needs to do 1-3 solid proofreads before passing it on to the group. In some cases, if writing is more unstructured on purpose, then make it clear what stage the work is in and what kind of proof is being done. Non-writers don’t typically understand what a first draft or an outline is all about. They may be expecting perfection, even though you‘re actually just finding the material to include at that stage.
Share, don’t hoard your work
As Samwise would say, “share the load!”. In other words, share the task of proofreading with others on your team, regardless of whether or not they happen to be writers or editors. Sure, you want those guys on the proofing team, but you need one or two other people whose thing isn’t text on board, just to make sure you’re connecting to a wider range of readers. When it comes to proofing, the more the merrier. Be sure to pass it around with the right tools, however. Sharing documents allows you to check it out and return it for other reviewers to take a turn.
Keep a proofing diary
Make useful notes on the process. If you’re going to learn from these boring proofing sessions, or make them interesting enough to be wide-awake and productive, you’re going to need to give yourself worthwhile lessons you can learn from. That means note-taking and painful conversations. Everyone should be able to contribute notes to the proofing diary. But review it periodically as a group every week prior to the upcoming proofing session, so everyone understands the current consensus on how and how not to proof what and where.
Make a day of it
Donuts anyone? If proofing is going to get the honor it deserves, you’re going to need to set aside a day or so just for proofing. That should mean treats, maybe some hardcore caffeine, chocolate, whatever it takes to get the brain engaged and eager to dive into the matter at hand. But the atmosphere should be breezy enough that people don’t sink into the material. Keep it on the surface and all about common-sense. Have each person read it, but designate the final proofing to be read aloud. You want to make sure nothing has escaped mention. People rarely keep quiet about something when they’re listening in a group. Encourage people to speak up now. It’s the last chance to spot the obvious.
Make it a culture
All aboard! If you have multiple departments, get the proofing day culture active in each content editorial silo. Replicate the best practices of each, or at least reveal them to each other when visiting other department proofing days at least once every quarter. Above all, share your mistakes! When proofreaders confess their past sins in front of the teams on a regular basis, they help newer proofreaders on the team to know what to watch out for. They also encourage the newer members to confess what resonates from the other confessors…so someone can go back and check it out.
A good proofing culture is supportive of the entire proofing group. It collaborates on ways to improve the entire process so that everyone can contribute new insights while nobody loses face for being imperfect. No such thing as being bad for having an idea that doesn’t pan out in the view of more experienced proofers. But everyone should at least be trying to chip in their 2 cents! Nowhere more than here does the slogan apply: fail and fail often!