In my 35+ years in the law library field, I have encountered quite a few good writers, and a few not-so-good ones as well. One of my greatest concerns recently, regarding our technologically advanced world, is our apparently growing acceptance of typographical and grammatical error in written documents. It has long been my opinion that e-mail, text messaging, social media, and other shortcut communication tools have robbed current society of the attention to detail that once pervaded the world of the printed word.
Yes, I know that my middle-aged curmudgeon roots are showing, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed. I took high school and college-level writing courses at a time when instructors were sticklers for accurate spelling, correct punctuation, and flawless grammatical practice. This is not to imply that I myself am completely without fault. Far from it. In fact, in the not too distant past, I released a newsletter issue containing an article in which I encouraged readers to have their interest “peaked.” I am well aware that I have been just as guilty as the next person when it comes to writing errors. But the fault lies not in poor writing skill alone, it more accurately lies in our reluctance to proofread our work, and furthermore our reluctance to have others proofread it. We must make every effort to overcome the present day notion that speed and quantity of published work excuses the occasional typographical or grammatical mistake, especially since many publishers have seen fit to downsize, or in some instances, totally eliminate their proofreading departments.
What we must also realize is that the focus of current secondary education has shifted from a quality teaching model to a testing success model. As long as students are able to regurgitate the correct answers on a multitude of tests, the educational system deems them worthy of promotion to the next level, regardless of their ability (or the lack thereof) to formulate conscious thought into intelligible written statement. Not to mention their ability, or inability, to correctly use there, their, and they’re or your and you’re in sentences. So is it any wonder that college students, and even law school students, lack the writing skills that require the level of accuracy expected of a professional career in which written documents are the stock and trade?
And most unfortunately of all, current students have been falsely assured that spell checking and grammar checking software will adequately detect their writing errors. Does that mean these tools should not be used? Absolutely not! Spell checking and grammar checking software systems are great tools to begin the process of reviewing written documents for accuracy. However, neither system will advise the writer that they have substituted the word “form” for the word “from” in three or four sentences, since both words have been spelled correctly. I have yet to find any electronic review program that comes anywhere close to matching the accuracy and keen insight of the human eye and ear in catching grammatical, typographical and syntax errors.
So what prompted this missive you may ask? Well actually it came to me as I was clearing my junk e-mail file the other day. What caught my eye was an email message that began, “Right your own ticket…” And imagine my surprise upon discovering it had been sent by, of all places, an online degree institution! Suffice to say, I didn’t even bother to check the name of the school from whence it came. I suspect their educational credentials are equally as lackluster as their marketing department’s composition skills. And, assuming their recruitment program is putting forth their very best efforts, I shudder to think what their educational programming has/doesn’t have to offer.
The bottom line here is that proofreading is an absolutely essential element of the writing process. And regardless of your years of experience, number of publications in print, level of educational achievement, or critical acclaim, proofreading cannot be replaced by any other exercise of the writer’s art. Proofreading must be done continuously, diligently, thoroughly, and wholeheartedly. Only then will your publications achieve the aims toward which they are directed. And most likely, the acclaim and recognition will follow in their turn. And why should they not?