Y Ewe Knead a Hue Man Proofreader

Wendy Kelly
Feb 07, 2014
Y Ewe Knead a Hue Man Proofreader

A writer at BBC knew seems to think "Spelling Mistakes Cost Millions in Lost Online Sales". What about you and your readers? How important is perfect spelling and grammar to your online experience? Research into this shows that, in general, we are sensitive to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation when we read online. And when we catch a spelling or grammar mistake on a website, we are less likely to trust that website. And if we don't trust, we don't buy.

Human Proofreaders For the Win

But, as my introduction would suggest, a spell checker can't catch everything. Not only that, as we know only too well from the proliferation of autocorrect fails, spell checkers do not understand context and have no idea what you were trying to say, let alone what the best way to say it might be.

Only humans can do that. And though you can also run your text through grammar checkers as well, they also can't detect context and rely on rigid (sometimes incorrect) rules of grammar that may or may not make sense for your text.

"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Another issue with machine versus human proofreaders is that the machine does not know your customer. We're in an interesting age. Think about it: Most of us read and write way more than we did 20 years ago. Many people who, 20 years ago, would have passively watched television, listened to the radio and then simply spoken to a few friends throughout the day, either in person or on the telephone, are now mini-publishers of content from the time they wake up in the morning.

BuzzFeed is full of their gaffes, many of which are hysterically funny. My favourites include the fact that, apparently, many people out there hate "two-faced" Hippocrates & love angles :). Personally, I think we need to ease up on these people and realize that we are all typing as fast as we can, and no one is immune to the occasional mistake, especially when texting. But think about it: These people are your readers, too. And though they can be highly critical about spelling and grammar (according to another study, 59% of consumers will not buy from a website when they catch a spelling or grammar mistake on the site) they can also, you know, not know what they are talking about.

I propose another, less talked about but very important reason to use a human proofreader: Grammar is not immutable. Some of you may be aware, for example, of the heated debates between EB White and New Yorker founder Harold Ross over commas. As Ben Yagoda says in The New York Times: "This brings up a key question: Who decides when and how punctuation rules change? The short answer is, no one." And the longer answer is: "You do!" You decide. Your publication should have a lexicon, words that your reader knows and likes and uses, and a style guide, full of grammar rules, punctuation rules, spelling rules, etc, that your reader knows and likes and uses.

You should not let MS Word decide what is correct or incorrect, nor should you let Grammarly, or even the New Yorker. Your publication should know your readers, and your readers' preferences should dictate how you edit and proofread.

And if your readers are on Facebook, Twitter and Imgur/Damnlol a lot, make sure you take your cue from those publications.

One thing you'll want to consider changing is your punctuation and capitalization. You may have noticed that we are moving to a more conversational style in our writing. This is reflected in comma usage, as well as periods -- and I have definitely noticed a weird overuse of capitalization, too. (Anyone else with me here?)

And for those of you who feel uneasy with the "new rules" -- Know this. Charles Dickens would be happy with the new rules:

Indeed, the quarrel, from slight beginnings, rose to a considerable height, and was assuming a very violent complexion, when both parties, falling into a great passion of tears, exclaimed simultaneously, that they had never thought of being spoken to in that way… - Nicholas Nickleby

Commas are an easy thing to pick on. In the Economist article "Commentary"  the author notes that there are few comma rules, but many, many conventions. These change depending on your audience (through time and space).

What a human can do is read your blog for clarity. Is it clear? Great -- publish it. Is it unclear? Fix it.

What are your thoughts? I'm almost afraid to ask... the last time I opened up a dialogue on punctuation (on Facebook, via a funny graphic about never using two spaces after a period) all heck broke loose. But let me know. Where do you stand in the grammar wars?

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