Is proofreading important?

As a professional writer, I like to think it matters when words are spelled correctly and used correctly. I’m usually trying to convey something specific when I write, and sometimes I agonize over choosing exactly the right word with exactly the right nuance of meaning.

But then I received my October 2011 issue of Peter Bowerman’s e-newsletter. He included a link to this video, which I found not only comical but thought-provoking (in spite of the raciness in places):

I mean, really, it’s amazing that we can decipher the story fairly easily, in spite of the preponderance of faulty homophonous substitutions! (Know what I mean?)

It reminded me of this email that was going around several years ago, using the following paragraph to demonstrate the power of the mind to find the meaning, even when words are jumbled:

Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

If people can read this and understand it, why do I spend so much time carefully crafting messages? Is all that editing, refining, and re-writing necessary? Is proofreading important?

I’m hoping to post an answer next week, but I’d like to hear your thoughts about this subject. Please post a response in the comments below!

Related post:

Correct language? Proper grammar? Who cares?

Related page:

Avoid Embarrassment


4 thoughts on “Is proofreading important?”

  1. When I see an ‘except’ where an ‘accept’ should be or hear ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ in a prepositional phrase I make a judgement about the author or speaker. It’s almost unconscious but it does happen. I try not to let it bother me but it does. Unfortunately those kinds of mistakes are becoming far too common in internet communication.
    Now I wonder what mistakes I’ve made in this comment.

    • I know what you mean, Angus! I have those same reactions to errors I read. Subconsciously I’m wondering about the author’s level of education, or attention to detail, or sensitivity to his audience. And I think it’s those little things that can really tip the scales for businesses who are trying to stand out in an increasingly crowded and social marketplace. I try not to be overly obsessive about grammar and spelling, because I recognize that communication is just as much art as science. But the rules do matter because they do affect how your message is received. Even when there are “acceptions” to the rules. (Just kidding!)

      You might appreciate The Great Typo Hunt, by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson. The authors narrate their trek around America, fixing typos, and they too raise some questions about whether or not grammar and spelling is important. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking.

  2. Hi Mel,

    I am going to use the paragraph with my students. A point I ponder, what do we think of Chinese writing and Egyptian hieroglyphs in view of such research? Might we change our writing? Shalom.

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