The Importance of Proofreading

You can be a pandering politician, or you can be a bad speller, but try not to be both at once.

A state representative in Oklahoma, one Mike Ritze by name, has decided to do one of those things where a lawmaker attempts to provoke a major civil liberties suit in order to assert a tribal identity that plays well with his constituency. Like you do.

Unfortunately, his installation of a giant Ten Commandments monument in front of the state capitol was badly done, and not just because it’s a deliberate violation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment. After dropping ten grand on this monument, after paying to have it installed, right when he should have been doing his religious-hegemony victory lap, that’s when Ritze and company noticed that it wasn’t even spelled properly. Hint for those asserting their absolute devotion to doctrine: there are two As in Sabbath, and no U in servant.

We can argue about the intersection of civil and religious life. There is legitimate debate to be had about readings of the Bill of Rights. But, speaking as a professional editor, nobody can deny that it is really, really important to proofread things properly. That is empirical fact and not up for debate.

Ask yourself: what have you done for your local editor today?


Photo—Jim Beckel, the Oklahoman

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    I also don’t recall an eagle, the American flag, or a Masonic all-seeing pyramidal eye appearing in the Bible. I mean, sure, the Bible says that God loves the USA more than any other nation, but did it really show the actual flag?….

  2. wellokaythen says:

    There was an English-language Bible printed in the 1600’s in England that had the misprint “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Someone left out the “not.” The printing house didn’t discover it until it was already distributed, and they worked like hell (so to speak) to round up all the copies. A few copies of this print run are still around, in museums. I’d choose that version as my Bible.

    To be fair, though, English was not standardized until the 1700’s. Why does the Word of God have to follow standard rules of spelling and grammar? That’s a very modern way of looking at holy scripture. Why should God be bound by trivial human rules like spelling? Andrew Jackson once said he could never trust a man who only knew one way to spell a word. Perhaps the monument is just “old school,” just like the colonial forefathers, who had no standardized spelling. Their spelling was quite “magickall,” you might say.

    There’s an interesting theological question. When God wrote the commandments with lightning onto tablets of stone, did He use correct ancient Hebrew grammar, spelling, punctuation, and verb conjugation?

  3. I have actually been challenged when I’ve proofread others’ material, including a voice mail message script in which the business touted the “traumatic” difference its clients experienced after purchasing services. Twice I changed it to “dramatic” and had it changed back by the customer. Finally, I spoke with the business owner via phone and explained the difference between “traumatic” and “dramatic.” She was horrified, because all of their printed marketing material used the word “traumatic” without correction by the printer so she thought it was okay. This is why print and audio vendors should correct their clients when appropriate instead of abdicating responsibility by saying, “Well, that’s what the copy said when we got it.”

  4. Mark Ellis says:

    Bane indeed, especially in this epoch of internet content, where if you don’t catch them yourself or pay someone to proofread, your mistakes might just make it onto the page. Trying then to get a correction from busy site editors is a crap-shoot. For print, self-publishing outfits charge an arm and leg if you miss something and sign off on the galleys.

    How awful to have your errors written in stone. Once I did a obit of actor James Arness, and put two L’s in the word Marshal (Dillon). Thankfully the editor went in and made the correction.

    A shout out to two entities in my experience that really go the extra mile after they’ve accepted a piece,
    The Rumpus, and the Portland Oregonian. They don’t just proof, but actually revise a bit, and it is always much appreciated.

    Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never had a piece that was not improved by an editor.

  5. This is a bane of mine. What tricks do you employ to get into proof reading mode? I have been relyong on other’s ‘fresh eyes’ but I often feel dumb when they find one of my typing transpositions or something similar. I create drawings and specfications for the building industry and I would like to be more proficient in catching my mistakes.

    • What I’ve heard is, read it backwards. I mean, read each word normally, but read the sentence backwards; that way your brain focuses on the words themselves rather than the meaning.

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