I make mistakes. Does that mean I’m not cut out to be a proofreader?
July 12, 2013 5:41 PM   Subscribe

I am very dissatisfied with my career trajectory (it may be laughable to even call it that) and I’m wondering if it is because I am doing something that I really have no aptitude for. Is there really such a thing as an "error-free" proofreader?

I came out of college 10 years ago wanting to get into publishing, and in looking for editorial jobs, I eventually ended up as a temp proofreader at an ad agency. I was the only proofreader they’d ever had, and was very busy every day with multiple projects and changing deadlines (which I was totally fine with - I’d spent 3 years previously underchallenged in an unrelated field).

I thought I was doing well despite having some missed items pointed out to me (maybe one every week, out of many, many items in a day?), until one day, about two months in, my supervisor pulled me aside and claimed my latest missed item had caused the company embarrassment in front of the client. My rate of error was totally unacceptable, she said, and if I made even one more mistake in the following two weeks, I would be fired instantly. It ended up being a little more complicated than that; different departments of the company were working with different drafts of a project and not talking to each other about what they wanted to see and not see, but the pronouncement still came at me like a freight train and shook me deeply. I was very afraid for those two weeks of losing my job after just having landed it. I doubled and tripled my efforts where possible and friendly coworkers started avoiding me and not inviting me to lunch. I think I was having panic attacks, but I always remained calm and professional at work. It came out in later discussions that my boss felt that only a single missed item every 3 months was an acceptable rate of error. I thought that that was unreasonable – I didn’t have a problem with being held to a high standard, but I did with an unreasonable standard. My supervisor concluded that it had been a mistake hiring me and that they should have found someone with much more experience. The two week period ended with no decision as to if I would stay or go, and I ended up resigning shortly thereafter.

Ever since then, though I have had other editorially inclined positions, I have doubted if I have what it takes to be a copy editor/proofreader/etc. I have continued to work hard, find ways to streamline my practices, and adjust to the pacing of each work environment, but every position still has been temporary, contract, or freelance, and eventually I am laid off (specifically due to work flow, never performance) or not invited to continue with the project for reasons not given. Interviewers look at my resume and ask me why I’m not “out saving the world” or heading my own department by now. I tell them that I have yet to be given the chance, and that I’m willing to work hard and earn it if it is offered to me. Still, I have never had a real full-time job, and I’ve gained only a little experience in publishing since I started out. In one position, I was accused by my supervisor of being too thorough, though when I asked for specifics or guidance, I wasn’t given an answer, just told that I should only be spending a brief amount of time on each project (I missed no deadlines, so I still don’t know what that was about).

My current position is not a whole lot different. I look for ways to distinguish myself (while staying in my lane) and do excellent work every week, but the signals that I get from the rest of my office are that I am very replaceable - and I still sometimes miss things. I realize that it is unreasonable to expect to be full time in one place for the rest of my life, but I would like to stop having to look for work all over again every 3 to 9 months (and frequently be out of work for as long or longer). It makes long-term considerations, like living on my own, impossible.

So my questions are: Are there proofreaders and copy editors who are truly error-free? If you are one of these, how did you get to be error-free? Because I haven’t been able to establish myself by now and achieve error-free editing, should I give up trying to do this kind of work and focus on some other kind?

Thank you for your time.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is such a complicated question. The simple answer is that no, nobody is truly error-free. But if that's your job, what you're paid to do, then a noticeable error every week is too much IMO. I agree with your old boss that several months should pass (at least) before another error is apparent.

But a complicating factor that you may not recognize if your boss is telling you that you're too thorough, is that there are differences between copy editing and proofreading, and there are various levels of editing that can be done on any job. So you may be unclear as to expectations with each task that crosses your desk. If you're a proofer, then don't edit the work, just look for errors and anything absolutely egregious. If you're a copy editor, then you're looking to ensure the content conforms to whatever style guide the company uses. If you're doing a substantive edit, then you can suggest rewrites here and there, etc. It's all often done by the same person, depending on the production process or the client or the deadline or......

Communication up front is always important, even if you've been at a job a long time. For each task, ask what the scope of work is. It may not be what you expect or think it should be. I'm the only corporate communications person at my company and even so, there are certain jobs (one particular department) where even if the content makes for cringeworthy reading, I'm basically a human spellcheck and suggested changes from me are quite unwelcome. So knowing your client is important.

The other thing that you don't mention but that may be part of your difficulty, is that the role you want to play is a role that (sadly) exists less and less in this economy. More and more, editorial work is outsourced, absorbed by other staff, etc. I'm a writer/editor but I've had to learn design software, web content management, social media, etc. to keep current. I'd be out of a job (and replaced by someone half my age at an entry-level salary) if I didn't keep learning, keep improving, adapt. It's tough out there for us humanities types.

Proofing isn't the first rung on the ladder anymore. There really isn't one reliable ladder at all anymore, it's more like a rock-climbing wall. Lots of options but no clear path, and you have to be willing to change directions & try another path to keep progressing. If you're not cut out for the precision required of proofing, there are other writing/editing/communications options out there. Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 6:15 PM on July 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


First off, this is extraordinarily well written so I don't know what the problem is with the people with whom you work. I don't think anyone is error free in anything that you do. Holding yourself to an unachievable standard of perfection is just going to make your life worse, and more painful. I know I am more of a content creator type. I know that I could never edit as a living. There are people that have that skill. You probably do. I have someone who edits my writing and feels that it is a completely separate skill set than creating content. You just need to see that you are competent, and thus feel the confidence flow through you. That said, I will recommend a book that was recommended to me, called Woe Is I. It is a pretty fun read, which is also informative. I also love my Strunk and White. In conclusion, you sound like me after today's work day. Go for a walk, do a shot, or find whatever it is that relaxes you and just chill.
posted by Jewel98 at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2013


I have worked as a proof reader, as have many of my friends, and I don't know that any of us would have ever gone a week working full time on proof reading without letting more than one error slip past. I mean, we are correcting between 2 and 20 errors per page on average, for hundreds of pages a day. If we only miss one error in all of that in a week, that is astoundingly good work.

Hell, now that I am an academic and have books and papers published I know that all of them still contain multiple typos despite professional proof reading as well as my own double-checking!

I think your boss is being unrealistic, but it's possible instead that my proof reader friends and I all suck.
posted by lollusc at 7:15 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


headnsouth makes an excellent point. It may not be the quality of your work that is the problem, but the simple fact that proof-reading is a job that is valued less and less these days. One of the major newspapers where I live recently laid off a large number of its sub-editors, and the change is obvious - you can regularly spot typos on the front page of its website. But this seems to matter less is the age of the 24-hour news cycle, where being fast is more important than being perfect.

You're obviously a good writer. Can you look at expanding your horizons and going after jobs where clear communication and accuracy is more important than just being 100% error free?

I'm a technical writer. My job involves taking technical information and making it easy to understand, in the form of software manuals, website copy, requirements documentation, etc. I also do some copy-editing and proof-reading for the company I work for. Of course I make the occasional mistake or miss something, but it's not that important in the scheme of things. Its more important that my copy is accurate and easy to understand.

Can you look for a job where your skills are valued more than just your lack of errors?
posted by RubyScarlet at 7:16 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are a few thoughts/ideas, and I am writing from the perspective of a person who used to work full time at 2 different communication companies, and occasionally I still interact with (editors, proof readers, etc.).I have to stress that I don't do these jobs,but I did ask people about their background and best practices.

At one company, an editor (and sometimes proof reader) stressed to me that a best practice would be to 1) have a copy editor work with a draft first, 2) then have a proof reader, and 3) any new copy or draft afterwards was supposed to be reviewed again.He also stated that it should not be the same person reviewing it over and over again because our brains just don't work that way. I've noticed some companies do the best practices, whereas others....do not, and there seems to be a problem (as in maybe one person reviews it, no one reviews the final draft that has gone through substantial revisions, etc.).

I've worked with some phenomenal editors (fast, the piece was always improved afterwards). However, I ALWAYS reviewed what they did and I will admit, frequently found missed material. Several things that were missed and this was per week/the same person. But the way I approached it was to review what they did and learn from it, and then apply it to the rest of the piece.

The other thing that I was goiing to suggest was to go somewhere that ...believe it or not the bar is higher. One place would be a medical communications company - the people hired had perhaps and undergrad degree (?) and they learned on the job. But they would need things beyond being a general editor or proofreader,such as 1) knowing the standards of the American Medical Association guide for writing and 2) formatting it to the guidelines for a particular journal (you can find that on a journal's website). I don't think that it is a big leap, but I do think that it is harder to replace these people if they leave because then you have to find someone who knows the guidelines or is familiar with them - so if I were in your shoes, I would find jobs that required one more hurdle... I would also look around and see if there is anything else that you can add to your repertoire of what you can do. At the med com companies, it was always difficult to work with the "art department" (PPT people)-God knows why, stuff had to go through them, and they did not always want to do it or take the time to do it. These companies would have probably paid money to have an editor who could do things with PPT too - but I would not invest time in that unless you talked to a few companies and were told this/people agreed with this.


look for ways to distinguish myself


This is an idea if you do find a company that cooperates with you, but years ago I approached an editor at a company and we did this. It was very well received because 1) it was training provided to other teams by the editor, and 2) whatever we produced for the editor was higher quality, meaning it made the editors work easier and the final product was better too.Most employees on the writing team happily gave up their lunch hours for this because- we did not have a writing background. But it is something that you could think about - are there any holes at your work place? Is there something in the process that could make it better? Would training your team or another team improve the product, etc? I do have to be honest and say that some companies were very receptive to these ideas....others,not so much, which may suggest that you are not the problem,but the whole company can produce crap and point fingers when an adjust in a procedure could fix things.
posted by Wolfster at 7:40 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just slogged through a 35 page White Paper on telework; I don't do many proof reading or straight copy editing jobs anymore, but this was a writing team I've worked with elsewhere, as an editor, and they asked, so what the hey? It's good to keep the skills sharpened.

Mine need plenty of sharpening. I'm a terrible proof reader. I get bored. I get in a hurry. I fail to keep a good style guide. I decide I'll jot down the query later, and then forget what I wanted to query. To do the job acceptably well, I have [to] remind myself of my deficiencies and fight against them. And I've had to develop a process that helps me trap errors. I make multiple passes. I separate different types of copy into individual passes. Et cetera.

It's not easy. I only like it ... 51%, but there's other work in publishing and content that I like a lot more and I try to do that.

In all of that long question up there you don't mention what you want to be doing in publishing. What do you want to do?

Figure out what that is, and do it on the side, on the cheap (put out some chapbooks, organize a webzine, ask a charity if they need a volunteer copy writer) and use those experiences and the experiences you already have to climb your ladder.
posted by notyou at 7:42 PM on July 12, 2013


It sounds like you do have trouble proofreading. And while yeah, folks will make the occasional mistake, they don't regularly make at least one big noticeable error every week that someone else had to point out to you first. (Note the part where someone else is always catching your errors, not you.) And when it causes the company embarrassment.... yeah, maybe this isn't your field. Apparently you take too long while working AND you are still producing errors. Both of those are pretty bad things when you can be easily replaced with someone who can work faster and more accurately.

I think you need to start looking into another field. Sorry. This level of nitpicking isn't for everyone and it sounds like it isn't for you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:46 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work as an editor and there's no way to catch everything. In my workplace, things go through many rounds and levels of edits (from draft to publication and from deep editing to light editing). It's understood that no one person will catch everything; instead, the process is built in such a way that many eyes see the copy many times. The process results in good copy, not one person.

What constitutes a major mistake? I probably miss formatting things fairly often along with subtle, or what we call "preferential," grammar problems (ones where there's disagreement or no clear answer). I less often miss really glaring things -- subject/verb agreement, modification errors, punctuation issues, spelling. I think most fluent English speakers who are readers and/or writers would easily catch those sorts of things. That said, I look at a high volume of things each day, and I sometimes just don't see even these glaring things. Such mistakes are embarrassing, but I feel highly confident that I am good at my job, despite these occasional slips.

Checklists and in-house style guides are really helpful as well. Have the places you've worked had really clear guidelines? Editing is harder when you don't have parameters to work within.

Bottom line: yes, editors miss things.

In your case, it might be that you are better at a certain kind of editing. Some people are really, really good at detail-level stuff and are great at spotting problems with line spacing, font size, dashes, graphics, etc. Some people are really good at sentence-level editing. And some people are really good at content-level editing. Are you better at one of these and not another? Maybe you can try to slot yourself into a position that draws on your strengths.

If you want to continue in this field, you might consider taking some training classes if you'd like to improve your skills. There are several online distance classes out there that focus on editing. Alternatively, could you find a mentor in your workplace who might be willing to take a look at your work? In my experience, editors become better when they collaborate, talk over problems or questions they have, and most importantly, share their work.
posted by megancita at 8:33 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've done proofreading. Stuff slips through. But less stuff slips through if you read a text multiple times, preferably with a break in between each read-through. Maybe you're not reading a text enough times?
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:37 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first thought was also that this is a field less valued nowadays. It's quite visible in translation, as well as bi- and tri-lingual administrative assistants. The latter used to be paid nearly as well as middle and higher management. It's hard enough being accurate in your native language, add one or two to that and you've got a very rare skillset... if the people paying you for that skillset know how to evaluate it, and do indeed value it. Nowadays that's generally missing, in large part due to taking a generally good outlook of "I understand what you're getting at, so as long as we all understand each other, it's all good" and putting it towards professional communications, which should be held to a higher standard. As a simplified example I've seen personally, take the tolerant outlook, mix it up with management seeing that they could go from their experienced multilingual administrative assistant to minimum wage if they run stuff through an automatic translator with a recent grad to proofread it, all for only the additional intangible cost of a bit of reputation that they figure can be glossed over, and you've got a problem. That same attitude has bled into all language skills.

I used to be a freelance translator and copyeditor, so I can speak to some other points from that perspective too.
- Do you have / are you given a style guide? Do you take the initiative to create one in order to ensure consistency?
- Are you aware that there are generally agreed-upon productivity estimates for proofreading and copyediting? A low estimate of volume for a proofreader working 8-hour days is 10,000 words/day; a good average volume for a copyeditor working the same hours is 8,000 words/day. These are figures I've always been given by reputable agencies, and have always found to hold true for work I do keeping a balance of quality and on-time delivery. If you're not hitting those targets, this may be the reason behind the thoroughness remarks.
- Indeed, you should be catching your own mistakes. I don't mean that your stuff should always be 100% perfect on delivery, but that you should be doing regular, quick reviews of past work, going "omigod I missed X, ack," then remembering similar work you've done, and going back to re-read it as well, to see if it's something you do repeatedly or if it was just a one-off. In essence, this is why the best proofreaders and copyeditors are people who are obsessed with language. It should be something you genuinely want to do, spontaneously, because of a desire for pride in your work, continuous improvement, etc.

Also, look at this that you said: "I tell them that I have yet to be given the chance, and that I’m willing to work hard and earn it if it is offered to me."
I totally understand where you're coming from, but it is overly passive. It does indeed happen that greater responsibilities are offered, but it's generally when the person has already taken risks and iniatitives towards those very responsibilities. Not necessarily requested them in and of themselves, but at least done things such as writing up their own style guide if none was present, asking your line manager who you could consult about said style guide, doing regular reviews of your own edits, proactively reporting mistakes you found during those reviews to your line manager, and that sort of thing. If you've been doing all that, then indeed, it's strange nothing has been offered, but could also be related to the current context for language professions. However, if you have not been doing all that, well, start!
posted by fraula at 4:08 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm an analyst. I am a "big-picture" trend spotter. I work for folks who are CPAs and they look at figures with a microscope. Throw into that the fact that I take data from 3 disparate sources, manually normalize it and then manipulate it in Excel. Yesterday I was complimented for producing a 15 tab spreadsheet with only 7 errors in it.

I HATE this stuff. While I like my job and my co-workers well enough, this isn't my wheel house. It just isn't.

I'm looking for a new gig that makes the most of the talents I do have. I'm not trying to do shit I hate better.

I'm working with IT to put the data in a Cube. This is the right answer.

My point is, perhaps it's time to change your career, to take on different tasks. If this isn't fun for you, find something that is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on July 13, 2013


Proofreading is hard, and it has consequences. Typos always make people mad, and bad ones can require materials to have to be destroyed and reprinted at great cost. It's also, in my experience, generally a rush job, because there's a deadline, and if any other part of the process has had problems, they want to "make up time" by rushing the proofing. Finding a balance of working quickly enough while catching everything you need to catch is maddening. And if you get totally focused on the work (which is necessary), it's very hard to also be focused on the office politics going on around you. I think freelancers have a bit of an easier time, being somewhat separated from the process. I worked as a managing editor/director of production for a small book publisher, and if I wasn't getting feedback that the books were coming out too slow, I was getting feedback that there were too many errors slipping through. It's a zero-sum game; there's no true win-win solution. But everyone has to pretend that perfection is achievable, because to admit otherwise allows you to get a little bit lazy, psychologically, and more errors slip in. I think good proofreaders have to be a little bit self-hating, sadly.
posted by rikschell at 6:18 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I worked for a company years ago that produced written content that was then distributed to the public, co-branded by ourselves and a client (major corporation). We had copy editors, proofreaders, and others who all touched the content. I don't know what an acceptable rate of error is for a proofreader, but if one of our proofreaders had been missing things every single week, we would have been having conversations with them, too.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:09 AM on July 13, 2013


anonymous posted">> It came out in later discussions that my boss felt that only a single missed item every 3 months was an acceptable rate of error. I thought that that was unreasonable – I didn’t have a problem with being held to a high standard, but I did with an unreasonable standard.

You were absolutely right, and your boss was both wrong and unfair. I worked as a proofreader for years before becoming an editor, and I can tell you right now that nobody who hasn't done proofreading professionally has any idea what it involves or what an acceptable rate of error might be (and I'm pretty sure all the people in this thread who are saying "yeah, you're not cut out for it" have never done it and don't know what they're talking about). At my first job, I was lucky enough to have a supervisor who was absolutely fearless about barking back at the bosses who tried to threaten us like your boss did; he'd say "I have the best goddam staff of proofreaders in New York, and if you don't like their work you can try doing it yourself for a while," and they'd back off. And I eventually started carrying around a little portfolio of Xeroxes I'd made of pages from Bibles, Oxford Classical Texts, dictionaries, and other books that had obviously been proofread to within an inch of their lives and yet still had errors in them (which I circled in red) as a little visual aid for when I got enough seniority to do my own barking back. (MeMail me if you'd like to discuss this stuff further.)

my supervisor pulled me aside and claimed my latest missed item had caused the company embarrassment in front of the client.

This is what it's all about. It happens every time: nobody notices or cares about the occasional error that slips through until a client notices one and says something, and then it's OH MY GOD THIS IS TERRIBLE! SOMEBODY MUST BE HELD TO ACCOUNT! and since the shit always flows downhill and the proofreader is the lowest on the totem pole, the proofreader gets the shit. And of course if the boss is an asshole, this involves threats of firing, since these morons think that's the only thing that will motivate someone who is obviously slacking off (or why would they let a mistake through?). It's the same reason Stalin used to have people who made mistakes shot for sabotage (and your boss probably wishes that option were available).

You know what the real problem was? You were expected to do way too much work. It's the new classic business model: hire too few people, give them too much work, pay them too little, and threaten to fire them if they complain. There's nothing you can do about that, but you can at least stop beating yourself up about it.

tl;dr:
Is there really such a thing as an "error-free" proofreader?

No.
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on July 13, 2013 [30 favorites]


Every time I have been involved in proofreading, it was more than one person. Maybe three people read for proofreading errors. We all found different things. There is no way one person can catch everything with the incredible workload you have.
posted by manicure12 at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


You ad agency had never had a proofreader before, which is the problem. They don't know how editing works! You never hire one person and expect them to catch all errors. The more important the client, the more levels of review you need.

You may or may not want to keep doing what you do, but failing at an impossible task should not be the reason. If you still want to do it, look for a place with a more professional approach.
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the basic requirements for being a proofreader, in my opinion, is a thick skin. You're working at the tail-end of a process under pressure, usually to make up the time that other people have lost and frequently to fix the mistakes that other people have made. When something you've been working on goes wrong, you're going to get at least some of the blame, even if you can prove it's not your fault and there was nothing you could have reasonably done to prevent it. Some places manage the reading process better than others but make no mistake - it's the shitty end of the stick and it never changes, no matter where you go. So you have to go in knowing that. It's not fair by any stretch of the imagination but that's the way it goes.

I'm a senior reader, I've been doing the job for about fifteen years now in various industries and at least once a fortnight I have a major cisis of confidence where I decide that I've missed something so obvious that I must be stupid and I should just go and shovel shit in a field because it's all I'm good for. Then I go and get a coffee and some perspective, get over it and move on. I know I'm not alone in the field in having this experience. I frequently have to take my colleagues and our freelancers to one side for pep talks to calm them down or cheer them up whenever the fickle finger of blame has been pointed at them. As much as anything else, it's a confidence game. So, I say this with love; proofreaders are a special kind of prick. We have to be.

Without knowing your training background, it's difficult to give any advice about improvement. I'm assuming that you've already asked a friendly senior colleague for honest feedback about your work. If you've got no formal training, doing a distance-learning programme might help. Aside from that (and at the risk of teaching you to suck eggs), slow down and you'll pick more things up than you will if you're rushing. Reading a piece out to yourself, including the punctuation, can help but will attract the occasional uneasy stare from people who don't know why you're doing it. Read things backwards or upside down. Don't be afraid to hide once in a while if you need some peace and quiet. Whatever you do, don't try to take an I WILL SPOT ALL THE THINGS! approach, putting that much pressure on yourself is just plain counterproductive. Remember that looking for the clever amend is the easiest way to miss something obvious. And fight your corner; nobody else will do it for you.

Feel free to memail me if you think I can help or just want to swap war stories.
posted by peteyjlawson at 9:19 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there proofreaders and copy editors who are truly error-free?

I've been a professional copywriter for 15 years. I rarely make mistakes. If my work were to be proofed / edited and came out the other side with mistakes in it, I'd be furious.

If you are one of these, how did you get to be error-free?

Practice, practice, practice. Attention to detail. Humility. I check everything twice, read it aloud to myself in my head, have a break and do something else then come back and check it again.

Because I haven’t been able to establish myself by now and achieve error-free editing, should I give up trying to do this kind of work and focus on some other kind?

Nope. If this is what you really want to do, stick with it, and develop a sense of humour about the world of business and how truly fucking insane it is.
posted by ZipRibbons at 9:26 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been freelance copyediting and proofreading professionally for six years, mostly for trade magazines and books. When I proofread a book after it's been copyedited, I always find errors the copy editor missed. Missing errors is normal. Missing errors that embarrass a company is mostly just unlucky. If an egregious error slips past you and someone important notices, it's not uncommon that you'll get a stern talking-to at best; at worst, it'll be time to find a new client or two.

I've never done this kind of work as a full-time employee, but when I freelanced in a magazine office on a regular basis, my copy editor boss would defend my work if an issue came up, much in the way languagehat described. This is the kind of work situation you should be seeking out if you want to stick with proofreading.

It's hard to know without working with you whether you are missing more than an average experienced proofreader would miss. But your work history makes me think that there may be some way in which you are falling short. Maybe it's because I work in publishing, or maybe it's because I freelance from home rather than seeking salaried staff positions, but I haven't had trouble finding work as a copy editor and proofreader. Everything that goes to print still needs sharp eyes on it.

In terms of how to get better, I would take the above advice about reading material multiple times with a grain of salt. Accuracy is valuable, but speed is important as well. The most helpful technique for me has always been to bounce my pencil off every word (sometimes called red dotting). After doing this for years, I don't have to bounce my pencil literally (nor can I onscreen, though I have been known to bounce my cursor off every word if I'm having trouble focusing). I tend to tap one foot or finger for every word I read, so that it barely slows me down but still ensures I clock every single word I'm responsible for. It's not foolproof, but it helps a lot.

Finally, it's unclear to me whether you even WANT to be proofreading or if you just see it as a stepping stone to saving the world or heading a department. Do you find the work satisfying or enjoyable? If not, maybe a new path is in order, regardless of competence.
posted by nevers at 2:46 PM on July 13, 2013


I used to do proofreading, copy editing, and substantial editing at various times as part of a team for an academic publication. We were all volunteers. We had a training program, style guide, and mailing list for questions. We had multiple layers of editing, copy editing, first proofing, then second proofing by someone else, then final proofing after layout. The publication looked very good. Were there still errors? Yes. But, they were almost always very minor. Even so, some of them still irk me years later. Totally error-free does not exist. That said, we reduced errors by making sure the right person was in the right role. Each step of the process required different abilities.
posted by Gotanda at 5:11 PM on July 13, 2013


I don't think you can reasonably assume your lack of job security is in anyway correlated with your skill as a proofreader.
posted by deathpanels at 6:24 AM on July 14, 2013


> I've been a professional copywriter for 15 years. I rarely make mistakes.

Nonsense. If I were in charge of hiring proofreaders and a candidate said that to me, I'd think "delusional" and be far less likely to hire them. If you sent me a carton of stuff you edited, I'm sure I could find enough mistakes to trouble you if I took the time, which I wouldn't because it's not worth it to me. But seriously, everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. And the bullshit idea that a good proofreader doesn't make mistakes is exactly what's causing the poster to have to worry about their job.
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


But seriously, everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect.

Yes! I've never been a proofreader, but I had a job that required a high degree of accuracy, and my boss used to rake me over the coals for rare, small mistakes. That boss was a fucking crazy person, and acknowledged as such by everyone else in the incestuous industry in which she works. Everyone makes mistakes, including the OP's unreasonable boss.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:39 PM on July 14, 2013


Editor, copy editor, and former proofreader here: Yes, everybody makes mistakes. You hope it won't be a misspelled word on the cover or in the headline, or that some dummy text won't make it through -- but truly, sometimes it does. And sometimes it's your fault, but sometimes it's the art department's fault, or the production department's fault. But in print, it's there forever.

When I was starting out, I let a few mistakes get through -- and when we printed a correction for one of them, there was a typo in that, too! Oh, the horror.

I thought I'd have to resign on the spot, but my boss thought it was hilarious, bless him. He took me out to lunch and kindly let me know that I needed to slow down and maybe even take proofs home over the weekend to look at them with fresh eyes. And he was right.

I read sooooo many books and magazine articles that are rife with typos and flat-out errors that I KNOW you aren't alone. And the writers I work with today who promise me error-free copy are, to put it mildly, delusional about their own abilities. You can't see mistakes in your own work, because you're often too close to it. That's why we still need editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.
posted by vickyverky at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


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