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Your words deserve more than sloppy spelling

04/10/2011

I have done one really bad piece of editing, and I am relieved to say that it was my first. Years ago, having joined a small publishing house from university and with no hands-on experience, I was handed the galley-proofs of a book to copy-edit. It was a charming memoir of the author’s time as a child-evacuee in the early days of World War 2. With his brother, he was sent by train, at the age of 5, from the East End of London to North Devon and had had a miserable time. It was no great work of literature, but it meant much to him.

I ruined it. Foolishly, nobody checked my work, which was sent straight to the printer. I had missed punctuation errors, despite having been taught grammar. I hadn’t seen the spelling mistakes, although I had always prided myself on my skill in that area. I failed to spot line repetitions and transpositions, which was just carelessly slipshod. I had simply not been trained to see the errors. When I proudly opened the final bound copy, every small fault was a vivid reprimand in print. In truth, there probably were not very many more errors than in the average book, but the difference was that they were my errors. That book was going to be there, forever, riddled with the embarrassing evidence of my sloppiness. I felt deeply ashamed of having let the author down.

It was an unwelcome, but valuable, lesson. Since then, I have always taken textual accuracy very seriously. Humiliated (in my own mind, at least), I trained myself to copy-edit with merciless rigour. I now see spelling errors immediately. I read everything – papers, books, billboards, programmes and now the web – with an obsessive eye for detail. I write the same way, with a determination to be accurate. Stupid mistakes are, in their own small way, offensive; they suggest a lack of respect for the reader. Although a newspaper (for example) has only a short working life, the internet is indeed forever. Text-speak has its place, but it is in texts; they are ephemeral. If you are trying to communicate important ideas or information, however, your thoughts deserve to be represented in correct language.

This is even more important if you are selling goods or services, in either your own or a foreign language. I speak French and German, but I would not publish anything that mattered without it having been checked by a native speaker. Why should anyone have confidence in your product or service if you cannot be bothered to describe it correctly, and are too busy or arrogant to check what you’ve written?

So, if you are an English speaker lacking confidence in your spelling or punctuation, I will check and correct your website. If English is not your native language, I will transform your words into such accurate English that visitors to your website will praise its clarity. You will probably have noticed, from my spelling of words like rigour and programmes, that I am an ‘English’ English speaker; I can, however, do ‘American’ English if you prefer!

If you think that I can help you, contact me at webwrights@btinternet.com.

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One Comment
  1. As I indicated today in response to your comment over at my place, I, alone, can provide you with more than enough to test your diligence! I am acutely conscious of errors of either omission or commission in both my spelling and my grammar. The shade of Miss Woods (Eng. Lit. & Lang. circa 1950-55) hovers above me constantly with her gimlet eyes glinting through her pinz-nez. But it’s no good, I still cannot proof-read myself. Pitying commenters sometimes draw attention to the worst of my mistakes but, alas, these days I am unembarrassable.

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