My mother used to say that I had what she called “the curse of spelling.”
It basically meant that I seemed genetically predisposed to finding errors in text. One example: I can open a complex restaurant menu, something I’ve never seen before, and within a few seconds, my eyes will inevitably zoom in on the one or two misspelled words in that giant mass of text. It’s almost a brain condition.
Another symptom that indicates you have “the curse of spelling”: when you hear someone say a complex and/or unfamiliar word, you find yourself spelling it out in your head.
Because of this blessing or curse – depending on how you look at it – throughout my school and professional career, I was always called on to proofread everything: papers, articles, advertisements, emails. I’m almost weirdly good at it.
This illustrates the first rule of proofreading: for important documents like cover letters and resumes, make sure someone else does a proofreading pass for you. Even I have missed things, especially if I’ve spent hours editing and looking at the same text over and over. You become text blind, and only a fresh set of eyes can break out of that rut.
One proofreader is good. Two is better.
It’s probably not rocket science to talk about the importance of proofreading when dealing with job application materials. But you would be surprised at the number and severity of spelling, punctuation and content errors that I have seen over the years.
Cover letters and resumes are especially vulnerable to proofing errors because, as much as I recommend writing fresh materials for each application, we often use older versions of these documents as templates for new ones. This can be a recipe for disaster unless you are eternally vigilant.
While any proofreading error is bad, death can come in the form of spelling someone’s name, the institution, or the job title incorrectly. Punctuation can be tricky and thus often overlooked, but it’s an important indicator of both your writing proficiency and your attention to detail.
Proofreading is not editing. (I will talk about editing much more in future posts.) But sometimes proofreading (or proofing for short) can unearth problems like run-on sentences, fragments, and writing that just doesn’t make sense. If you get this sort of feedback from someone you asked for proofing help, definitely take it to heart. Because if they saw these problems during a proofing pass, they would definitely stand out in a more detailed edit.
Software has and can be a big help with stamping out errors. Does anyone remember before the ubiquitous Microsoft Word red squiggly underline? Tools like Grammarly are free and can be added as plugins to browsers.
But nothing can replace a set of human eyes connected to a brain. When I was a newspaper reporter, more times than I would like to admit the phrase “pubic education” found its way into the paper.
Because, well, “pubic” is a word. 🙂
I put the word “proofread” in the headline of this post twice because it’s just that important. And if you exercise a little care, you don’t have to have the curse of spelling to slay this particular dragon.