The proof’s in the puddling

by / Monday, 18 May 2015 / Published in Uncategorized

Yes, I know there’s an error in the headline. It’s deliberate – and there to prove a point about the importance of proofing (or checking) your written work. Because, if you don’t proof your work, you can end up looking:

Silly

Unprofessional

Illiterate

Untrustworthy

Uncaring

Are those the traits you want to portray to people, the impressions you want to create in the minds of your readers?

What the headline should say is “The proof’s in the pudding” – a shortened version of an old saying “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. The problem with the full version, of course, is that by the time you’ve said it, half of the dessert is likely to have gone.

Anyway, this is all a convoluted way (excuse?) to write a blog post about “proofing” – a shortened version of the word that describes the least favourite task of many writers: proof-reading.

A short history of roof

Yes, another deliberate mistake since I’m not going to write about mud, hay, slates or tiles.

The term “proof-reading” or “proofing” derives from the print industry, before computers and electronically word-processed texts were sent around the world as digital zeroes and ones. The Oxford English Dictionary calls a proof “a trial impression of a page used for making corrections before final printing.” The key part of that definition is near the end: “making corrections”.

Back in those olden days (maybe 30 years ago) when type was set, printers created a proof and sent it to the author for proofing. The idea was for the writer to be able to check that the printer had managed to correctly “translate” his or her own words (either typed or hand-written) onto the printed page. If the author found an error, s/he would mark up the proof using a set of industry-standard symbols that denoted what action was needed to rectify the mistake.

Once the text had been proofed from start to finish, the author sent the annotated – or signed-off as “clean” and approved – proof back to the printer, either for printing (if it was OK) or for re-setting (if not). In the latter case, and especially when more than a few minimal changes were required, the printer would have to send another proof back to the writer for checking… and so it went on.

Harder than you thing

(“Think”, not “thing”!) Nowadays of course, everyone’s a publisher in some capacity or other – from emails to blogs, Facebook posts to tweets, we’re all writing and sending stuff out to the world every day. What’s more, correcting a mistake is as easy as hitting the “Delete” or “back” button on whatever device we’re using at the time…  except it isn’t that simple, is it?

First of all, you’ve got to bother to check the text for mistakes before pressing “Send”. Have you got the time/energy/inclination to do it? If you have all three and want to review what you’ve written before sharing it globally, do you know what you’re looking for?

Which brings me to point 2 – you must decide what constitutes an error. Do you have a personal (e.g. ethical, religious, or other) set of rules that govern your communications? Or, if writing in a business context, a set of corporate guidelines that dictate tone of voice, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and so on?

Third, do you have a technique for proofing your work properly and thoroughly? I have – and it involves printing whatever I’ve written, reading it through several times (including out loud, and from finish to end – yes, backwards). It works – but it’s long-winded too.

If you’ve thought about – and can answer – those three multi-layered questions, you’re probably a copywriter. If you haven’t, you don’t want to, and you’re not, then maybe you need one?

To find someone who regards proofing – and writing – as their bread and butter, simply email richard@richwords.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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