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Is Proofreading Perfection Possible?

street-sign-141396_1280Are you seeing more errors in the books you read these days? I know I am. Misspelled words, words or letters left out, punctuation errors, you name it. Makes you wonder who did the editing and proofreading on those books, doesn’t it? Who made those glaring errors? The truth is, most errors in your books “got by” several people. Either that, or the computer created the error in the typesetting process.

Nobody’s Proofreading Is Perfect

Let’s remember that famous quote from Alexander Pope:

To err is human.

Try as you might, mistakes will creep into your work. If spell-check and auto-correct could catch every error, we wouldn’t need editors or proofreaders. As it is, every piece of writing goes through several stages of editing and proofreading. And still, the errors happen.

An Example of Proofreading Effort vs. Errors

Back in the 1970s, I worked in a college dean’s office. I had to type (on an electric typewriter) the School of Home Economics accreditation self-study. White-out was available then, but typing this 500-page report was labor-intensive. The dean’s administrative assistant was in charge of the project. She collected from the professors the various chapters. I typed the material up. I then proofread the material and corrected any mistakes I found. Next, the dean’s assistant proofread it. I corrected these errors. We sent each chapter to a department professor assigned to proofread yet again, and I corrected what she found. That makes three times we proofread it before it left our department.

Next, we sent the whole thing to a professor in the English department for proofreading. When he sent it back, I corrected errors he found. Confident that we had done our best, we sent the master copy to the print shop for multiple copies to be printed. When the bound volumes were delivered, we all wanted to thumb through a copy. I laid my book on the desk and let it fall open. There—staring right at me—was the word “student” spelled “sutdent.” We failed to create a perfect document, but not for lack of effort.

Proofreading Errors, a Fact of Life

No matter how careful we are, mistakes happen. Consider this error that appeared in a 1631 edition of The Bible. Notice item number 14 in the photo. This version means the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to mean.


So, print errors in larger works happen, even in The Holy Bible. That doesn’t mean we should give up on doing things right. We still need to know our craft (punctuation, grammar and style). We still must proofread ourselves and have someone else check it out, too.

Remember the rest of Alexander Pope’s quote:

To err is human—to forgive divine.

Forgive yourself and others for errors in books and articles. Also, check out this article about errors in books: Do Publishers Edit Books Anymore?

Readers, if you have a humorous example of a proofreading error, feel free to share in the comments. If you receive this post via email, please click on the title of the post to go to my site. Scroll down to “Leave a Reply” to comment.

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8 Responses to Is Proofreading Perfection Possible?

  1. Donna Clark Goodrich May 14, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    Our community college catalog stated that they were offering a new class in “Pubic Relations.” Should be interesting!

  2. Cecelia Lester May 14, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    I see typos all the time, in other’s writings as well as my own. A blogging friend who lives in Europe recently sent me a paperback copy of her latest book to review. I found a few errors in it but I chose to overlook them because I believe English is her second language.

  3. Emily Akin May 14, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    I’ve been tempted to make lists. I am such a busybody that I think I should tell people they’ve made mistakes. Then, it occurs to me that I have better things to do.

  4. Emily Akin May 14, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    Oh, wow. That’s one error the spell checker will not catch. I’d be willing to bet that some people will not even notice it.

  5. Alma Jones May 16, 2016 at 4:54 am #

    Well said, Emily.

  6. Emily Akin May 16, 2016 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks for the good words, Alma. It’s hard to strike a balance. We do our best. But, mistakes happen, and we can’t beat ourselves up too much over them.

  7. Laurean Brooks May 16, 2016 at 10:26 am #

    Emily, I feel better already. I thought it was just me. After two proofreaders went through my recent manuscript, I still found a few errors. And no doubt, when this book arrives I’ll find more.

    I am still blushing over errors in a previous Indie book, but I plan to make those corrections too….as soon as life slows down and I can figure out Create Space. Sigh.

  8. Emily Akin May 16, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Persist, Laurie. I think the speed at which we do everything these days causes us to overlook errors we would see if we were taking our time. Everyone’s under such pressure. Thanks for the comment.

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