A proofreader's guide to grammar
So, as promised in last week’s blog post, I’m going to start looking at some of the ‘tricksier’ aspects of English grammar and providing a proofreader’s perspective on usage and abusage.
Before I start on the elements of grammar itself, I wanted to use this first post to explain what I mean by ‘a proofreader’s perspective’.
Surely it makes no difference whether you’re the originator or proofreader of a sentence. Surely, the same rules apply. Strictly speaking, yes, the same rules apply. But there are qualitative decisions a writer makes with which a proofreader needn’t concern themselves. Remember, you’re a proofreader not an editor. You’re not asking yourself whether or not a sentence is good, you’re checking to make sure it’s correct.
Let’s take a look at the semicolon (I’m going to be talking about this in more detail next week) to illustrate what I mean.
So, a writer is trying to describe the moment in her novel when a particular character realises she has become invisible.
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror because she was invisible.
She then deletes that sentence and writes:
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror. She was invisible.
She then deletes that sentence and writes:
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror; she was invisible.
Happy with this third permutation, she goes on to describe Melissa’s adventures in invisibility.
None of these options is incorrect. The writer’s use of the semicolon in the third version is fine; the semicolon can be used in place of a conjunction. But you might have an opinion on which version is qualitatively better. Me, I like the second option. I think it has more punch.
As a proofreader, my opinion on such matters isn’t relevant. I’ve got a job of work to do. I’m looking for errors. That’s what my client is paying me for. That’s what your client will be paying you for. If you’ve picked up The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course, followed its instruction and taken its advice, you’ll be charging your customer $35 per hour to find errors in their work. You might even be charging more if you’re proofreading in a niche area: science, medicine, law. You might have lots of clients and a stack of proofreading that’s going to keep you in new shoes and good food for the next three months. You haven’t got time to be getting into a discussion with a writer over whether or not a period would serve better than a semicolon in a particular instance.
Don’t get me wrong, if your ambition is to become an editor, proofreading offers a very effective way in. In fact, Chapter 8 of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course deals, in part, with that transition. But on this website, we really want to focus on how to proofread, how to become a proofreader and how to create and develop your proofreading career or business. Believe me, that’s more than enough to be getting on with.
Let’s go back to our writer, and the adventures of the now invisible Melissa.
Our writer types:
Melissa raises a hand, holds it inches from her face and sees nothing.
She deletes this and decides to go with:
Melissa raises a hand to her face; and sees nothing.
Now, as a proofreader, you have grounds to take issue. The writer has used a semicolon and a conjunction, which is redundant. You only need one or the other. So, put your red pen to work and mark it up.
The writer might come back and say the usage was intentional, that she was trying to create a ‘beat’. That’s her call.
In my opinion, a period would serve better in trying to achieve that effect:
Melissa raises a hand to her face. And sees nothing.
But it’s her call.
The fact remains, you were right to draw attention to this inaccurate use of a semicolon. You were doing your job as a proofreader and you were doing it well.
In a nutshell, as a proofreader you’re concerned with wrong and right, not good-better-best. So, that’s what I mean when I say I’ll be looking at grammar usage and abusage from a proofreader’s perspective.
See you next time, when I’ll be looking at that little winking-eye emoji in a little more depth.
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My name's Mike Sellars and I'm an experienced proofreader and the author of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. Click here to find out more about me.
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