Employing a second pair of eyes: the role of copy editors and proofreaders

Remember yourself as a child, shuffling back from your teacher’s desk. Your marked assignment is in your hand, you notice it’s covered in red pen and feel that sense of looming disappointment. You spin on your heel as your teacher remarks, “There were a lot of careless mistakes. You simply must check your own work!”

Fast-forward to adult life in our world today, where politicians and celebrities can make career-ruining mistakes by writing poorly written Tweets that end up offending a whole sector of society. Trigger happy on their digital device, they swiftly broadcast their thoughts to the world – only to delete or publicly retract them later. You would think politicians have a gatekeeper to prevent these blunders, or at least a proofreader?

While the digital world of websites and social media does mean you can ‘fix’ mistakes after hitting publish, it doesn’t mean a bad taste isn’t already left in the reader’s mouth to linger.

Isn’t checking my own work enough?

None of us are perfect, but checking your own work is only the first part of eliminating errors. We all know what it’s like when you’ve been going over the same project for weeks or months, and you’re just sick of the sight of it. A fresh pair of peepers really helps to detect those pesky double spaces, spelling mistakes or incorrect punctuation.

At bellette, we work in a creative agency environment where having a second pair of eyes on your work can avoid costly mistakes, like a reprint. When it comes to any type of content, be it design or copy, we have a ‘second pair of eyes’ policy where you must have someone proof the design, and someone proof the copy. A co-worker with the appropriate expertise, who isn’t attached to your creation, has that distance to pick up those preventable mistakes. Another person’s perspective can also save a cultural, topical, or historical blunder. We all know different things about our clients and also the world into which their messages will be thrust.

Proofreading might not make you popular, but clear messages make you powerful

Now that we’ve established the importance of proofing, a.k.a, having someone else check your work, what about the professional proofreaders?

Those of us who are naturally drawn to proofreading everything understand that it’s usually a thankless task. Not all superheroes wear capes and, as many a grammar expert has said: commas save lives. Some people might taunt the ‘Grammar Nazi’ in the office who scoffs at misplaced possessive apostrophes and trys to start conversations about dangling modifiers or incomplete sentences. We proofreaders have to pick our battles. Cleaning up your colleague’s punctuation when they’ve not asked for it is a bit like washing up other people’s dishes in the office kitchen – a thankless task done by kitchen fairies?

What some people underestimate is the power of clear communication. If you work in a corporate environment, you’re likely reading email after email plus instant messages, as well as formal documents, in your day-to-day life. If you receive messages that are hard to understand, you won’t engage with it and may lose trust in the messenger.

Clear communication in the workplace is not about being high and mighty and flexing your vocabulary. It’s about writing in plain English that doesn’t waffle, outlines clear points, and conveys instructions or expectations clearly. Readers quickly lose patience if what they’re reading is riddled with mistakes, whether that’s getting your facts wrong or not taking the time to do a spell check.

Make those careless mistakes someone else’s problem: outsource to a proofreader or copy editor

So, why pay for a proofread of your document? Proofreaders are professionals with eagle eyes that can tune into the smallest inconsistencies throughout long documents.

While proofreaders don’t re-write your work, they will:

  • add or remove punctuation for greater clarity
  • point out inconsistencies against a decided style guide
  • pick up spelling and formatting errors.

Proofreaders generally won’t fact check everything, but they will point out anything that seems awry, or conflicts with information elsewhere in a document.

If you do want someone to edit your words line by line, you need a copy editor. Copy editors will:

  • optimise your word choices
  • eliminate lengthy, confusing sentences
  • edit the voice of your document into a consistent tone
  • ensure your chapter and/or paragraph structures are logical.

Copy editors tend to make a lot of editing suggestions that you can accept or decline. For this reason, it is recommended that you have a proofreader check over the whole document prior to publication, to pick up any double spaces, typos or formatting issues.

At bellette, we offer both copy editing and proofreading services. Get in touch to ensure that your website, document or report puts your best foot forward – and save yourself from the red pen of disappointment.