Editor in Person – Why You Shouldn’t Proofread Your Own Writing

Having discussed and debated the merits of the spell check, I thought I’d take some time to talk about proofreading your own work.

If, like me, you feel you’re pretty good at picking up on mistakes, that your typing isn’t too bad, and you have a fairly good grasp of English and the grammar that goes with it, then you’ll think that you can happily proofread your own stuff. Right?

Wrong!

This has been proved to me over and over since I started writing on my blogs. No matter how many times you check it, there’s always something that you missed. And the reason is: because you are just too close to the material.

Certainly, in my case, I get caught up in what I’ve written. I might be congratulating myself on how fantastic it is (rare), or worried that I haven’t quite said what it is that I wanted to say (common). Either way, I’m simply not concentrating on the phrasing, layout and spelling as much as I should. Not helped, of course, by the pesky spell check; that, even in this piece, is questioning my use of “you’re” and “your”!

I get my lovely husband to reread everything. (He’s a great fan of the comma and feels I don’t use them enough.) And that’s enough for my little blog items. I also have some lovely friends who will politely pick me up if there’s a mistake so I can correct it quickly.

As a proofreader everything I write has to be perfect. Who’s going to hire me to proofread their writing if mine is littered with grammatical and spelling mistakes. Even social media posts are perilous. Don’t even get me started on predictive text.

Fortunately most people can happily interchange all the “they’re” and “their” and “there” they want on social media.

But if it counts, it needs to be right. Don’t just hope for the best.

But That’s Not Right… 5 Tips on the Use of the Apostrophe

I am pernickety. Generally everywhere, but definitely when it comes to language and grammar, and, oh, the irritating comma and apostrophe.

Actually, I quite like the apostrophe. I personally don’t find it irritating at all. I just find it irritating that other people don’t know how to use it properly. Unlike the comma, whose use is subjective and down to style in many circumstances, the apostrophe just is; it’s either right or it’s not right.

As a proofreader there is a constant assault on my brain by misused apostrophes. And, dare I admit, I always have to think about “its” in its possessive form? Especially when my spell check insists on inserting an apostrophe! I have enough trouble with it already. I don’t need a machine confusing me even more.

The apostrophe, in the main, does one of two things. It lets us know who something belongs to, or it shows us that there are missing letters.  So on that basis, a few seconds of thought can help you decide if you need an apostrophe or not.

  • Tip 1 – Repeat the sentence in your head without any missing letters. If you have to create  extra letters or words, then there should be an apostrophe. If not, don’t put it in.

I won’t go the fair to get fish and chip’s.
I will not go to the fair to get fish and chips.

(Not: “fish and chip’s.” No extra word there, just more than one chip!)

  • Tip 2 – Turn the sentence around so that the possessive apostrophe isn’t required.

This is John’s scarf.
This scarf belongs to John.

Definitely needs an apostrophe.

  • Tip 3 – Words that end in “s” can be tricky in the possessive. But the same rules apply as in Tip 2. No one will pick you up for using too many “s”s, but they will pick you up if you put the apostrophe in the wrong place or not at all.

Here is James’s apple.
This apple belongs to James.

This is the series’s last episode. Or, this is the series’ last episode.
This is the last episode in the series.

It is quite acceptable to miss the second “s”. So one apostrophe is then doing both: a missing letter and showing possession. Clever little apostrophe.

  • Tip 4 – If in doubt, look it up. Don’t guess. It takes seconds these days to check the internet if you really can’t be bothered to dig out a dictionary. Just check that several sites agree, as you might pick the one who got it wrong. And that wouldn’t be good at all.
  • Tip 5 – “Its” and “it’s”, “who’s” and “whose”. They are confusing because, as in Tip 2 above, we expect an apostrophe to show possession. But these are the lovely exceptions to the rule. The best thing to do is ask yourself the question: is it who is or who has? If yes, then use the apostrophe.

…whose use is subjective and down to style (me above, about the comma).
Who’s making all that noise?

…about “its” in its possessive form (me above again, confessing my lapses).
It’s about time you got here.

Learn them. Just learn them. Get it into your head how each one works and just make sure you write it right. And even then, a proofreader is your friend. Because there’ll always be people like me around, just waiting to tell you: ‘But that’s not right…’

I’ve Got Spell Check… I Don’t Need a Proofreader

We all have them. We often rely on them because our typing skills are rarely that good. Fast, but not accurate. And spell check will sort it out, sometimes changing the word for us, and sometimes just flagging it up for review. Marvellous, isn’t it? I admit to be much the same as most of the world. I rely on my spell check…a lot.

But it can be your worst enemy. It will not, for example, tell you that you have put ‘form’ instead of ‘from’. Because it’s spelled right. It won’t help you decide on ‘advice’ or ‘advise’, ‘practise’ or ‘practice’, ‘site’ or ‘sight’, ‘licence’ or ‘license’.

Just contemplate a situation where what you have written is the first impression. Like the clothes you choose to wear for an interview. You want it to be spot on. Or a really important essay or project. The last thing you need is someone distracted by your errors. Or worse still, laughing at your mistakes. It is so very easy to see them in other people’s work, not so easy when you’re caught up in your own message.

To illustrate, I thought I’d write a little poem.

Ewe want to right a lovely peace,
On just how grate you are,
On how you’re skills are second to nun,
Your the best won out they’re by car.

Sew hear you are, your praise is dune,
And you have done a cheque.
After all, watt moor is needed?
Their bond to bee in pressed.

Spiel check has dun it’s joke,
Your happy as can bee,
Not a single errors is fund hear,
Four anyone too sea.

And here it is corrected:

You want to write a lovely piece,
On just how great you are,
On how your skills are second to none,
You’re the best one out there by far.

So here you are, your prose is done,
And you have done a check.
After all, what more is needed?
They’re bound to be impressed.

Spell check has done its job,
You’re happy as can be,
Not a single error is found here,
For anyone to see.

OK, it’s a bit extreme, but the point is not one of those words is spelt incorrectly. So technically, spell check wouldn’t pick them up. They are getting smarter, no question, but they aren’t human, and will never get all the nuances of our language.

And words that sound the same that mean something completely different. Here are some great examples of words that easily get confused:

  • Tack and Tact
  • Peek, Peak and Pique
  • Insure and Ensure
  • Affect and Effect
  • Flout and Flaunt
  • Horde and Hoard
  • Pour and Pore
  • Rein and Reign
  • Founder and Flounder
  • Further and Farther
  • Less and Fewer

Will your spell check sort them out?

That’s where a proofreader is invaluable. They will correct spelling and look for inconsistent spellings (i.e., names, places, etc.); check grammar, punctuation and hyphenation; check fonts, headings, and page numbers are correct and layout is consistent, including titles, paragraph indents and spacing; and check word order and sense.

No spell check can do that.