Sunday, January 06, 2008

Proofreading. We has it.

302 pages down, 186 to go, lots of queries to be answered, and the whole stack has to be on a desk in Sydney by Wednesday.

Which would be easier if not for the four short book reviews due, also by Wednesday, and the still-unfinished 4,000 word essay which should have been emailed off the day before yesterday. And don't ask me why I didn't do it earlier. I didn't do it earlier because I was, um, working too hard. I've got two as-yet-unpacked green shopping bags of Christmas loot to say I was working too hard, to say nothing of the still-up tree, the untidy bedroom, the ever-growing pile of laundry, the jungle in the back yard and the fallen-down back fence.

What I had forgotten, because -- the electronic age being what it is -- it's been a while since I did any, is that proofreading hard copy the old-fashioned proper way with a ruler and a red pen (or, if you're very lucky, a second person willing to read everything out to you, punctuation and all) is in fact an extremely soothing and calming activity. There is none of the effort and strain and self-torture of writing involved, and none of the endless infuriating double-and triple-checking of names, dates and titles that must be done if the kind of writing you're doing is the imparting of huge amounts of information in the smallest possible space.

But all you have to do when proofreading is to find the errors (most of which leap out at you) and mark them with the correct marks in red pen. Every so often you neatly square the stacks of paper and watch with pride as the Done pile grows steadily higher and the To Do pile proportionately ebbs.

I'm being reminded by this task that one of the many things for which I am grateful to be an academic no longer is the fact that I no longer have to mark essays. I never minded marking one essay; it was marking seventy (at least half of which were about how much the student just lerved Wuthering Heights, though I preferred that to the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of that novel that once turned up in the pile) that used to get me down. Not least because if one marked essays in red pen, as one habitually did for editors and typesetters, the students would get upset, because "red seems angry".

Red, my children, is to make it easier to see. That is all. There is no emotion and no personal transaction involved here. No one is trying to hurt you. The only thing that ever made me angry was painstakingly correcting various errors of logic, understanding, fact, spelling, expression and documentation and explaining how to do it properly, only to see the student, in his or her next essay, make all of the same mistakes all over again. Life is too short to waste it teaching people things they don't want to know. Yet another soothing thing about proofreading is that with every correction you know that the person reading it will know exactly why you did it, and be grateful.

6 comments:

Kathleen said...

PC, sounds like we have spent our New Year "break" similarly - I was proofreading a thesis. It was a curly one, in terms of its language and expression, but the proofreading itself was a great thing to be doing: so quick, so clean - and when I read the corrected sentence out again, there it was, the meaning or idea suddenly clear as a bell. I find it a very, very satisfying - and very immediate - achievement.

I also have to confess that I love using the proofreading marks - but then again, one of my favourite games as a kid was playing libraries, so...hm.

mhw said...

I'm an ex-proofreader, ex-editor and ex casual academic, and this really hit several spots with me. It's years since I've done any serious proofreading, and I miss it. I don't miss the marking nearly as much. :) You have beautifully drawn out the skills of each mode of dealing with text, which would no doubt seem very similar to the untrained eye. I love the proofreading marks too - they're such an efficient shorthand.

fifi said...

I hope you're proofing something satisfying...your own work perhaps?

I spent most of november ploughing through more than 350 pieces of work...yes, three hundred and fifty, plus practical portfolios...errrr.

I find the problem is having to stop because your inner monologue has taken over from the words you are reading, which means time for a coffee.

The trauma is receding...just...

Anonymous said...

Can I has redpen? LOL Proofreeduz!

Pavlov's Cat said...

God yes -- imagine proofreading Lolkitteh.

Nitemairs. We has them.

Anonymous said...

Im in UR manusckript, eeting UR commas !!