The Proof Is in The Process


After years of writing, I am always amazed at the proofing process. A written piece can pass through multiple hands and head to the printer, only to return with a glaring error. It’s easy to toss judgment and blame after the fact, but the bottom line is, just as everything else in life, anyone who has spent time communicating (that would pretty much mean everyone) has fallen prey to this head-banging reality and those pesky mistakes that seem to slip through no matter what.

While driving down the interstate one day, I saw a sign that said “No Pedestrains”. Suddenly, I pictured a line of people holding each other by the waist, dancing a conga line across four lanes of traffic.

Not too long ago, I sat down in a restaurant and glanced at a full-color glossy poster for the “Decemember Band Lineup”. I wondered if the lead singer stuttered.

My all-time favorite, however, hung in the window of a local beauty parlor in a sleepy, southern town. Apparently, a man had died, or as some say, passed on. However, the author failed to understand correct past tense and it read, “Mr. Otis pasted. Goat roast to be held on Sunday.” What images…

All that said, words do leave an impression or image with the reader. If you want a professional, clean image, then having a proofing process is a must. The act of proofing and the process of proofing in my mind are two different animals. For non-writers/editors, the act of proofing may feel like trimming the lawn with a pair of scissors. A good place to start is to identify what the “process” within your organization looks like as opposed to panicking over foreign proofing symbols.

Here are a few hints for turning out that perfect piece.

It’s Called a “Rough Draft” for a Reason
Translating thoughts to paper is a monumental leap in itself, so approach that first draft knowing it will be imperfect. Consider it a working document, a lump of clay, an unfinished work. It’s rough. Send this one out and you will get reactions, but none that you could write home about.

Let it Rest
If time allows, set that first draft aside even for just a few hours. Eat lunch, call your mom, then go back to it. It will already look different. Work on it again. If you’re collaborating with others, send them a second version and solicit comments.

Find a Word Person and Let It Go
Once you feel it’s done, let it go and pass it on to at least two other people for review. Ask them to check for typos, errors, and clarity. A hint…find people who have an aptitude for writing, reading or editing. Uncle Joe may be a great mechanic, but he may not be the right person to review that multi-million dollar RFP or your new business plan.

The Final Act
Whatever the final product, brochure, web site, or newspaper ad, plan to view the words in that final layout. It’s surprising how graphics and form can suddenly make that cute phrase or caption seem out of place.

By knowing you have established a good process for proofing, when your new boss tells you his name is misspelled, you can at least take comfort in the fact that it wasn’t because you took short cuts. Right after you finish banging your head against the wall, review your process for “proof” that it’s as tight as can be.