Friday, August 31, 2007

Some thoughts on proofreading

Or, I knew the prowess that allowed me to win that spelling bee in grade school would come in handy some day. I just finished a freelance proofreading job, the latest volume of Methods in Enzymology. Although I am a medical copy editor by day, that doesn't mean I know every word in the medical lexicon, and it's possible that no other publication could have made this quite so clear as "MIE," as we're fond of calling it. For proofreading, you need a basic sense of what looks right in English and for scientific proofreading you need to learn a whole lot of syllables so that when they endlessly recombine in new and interesting ways, you still recognize the words as being, well, at least feasible.

I have access to an excellent medical dictionary, but not everything is in there, and so I resort to Google half the time. And you know what I always say -- if it's been misspelled once, it's been misspelled 125,419 times on the web.

Zogby (sign up with them now!) recently sent out a survey on spelling and vocabulary, to which I responded "not sure" on a number of questions. That's because they were asking things like "which is more important, spelling or vocabulary?" I think the answer is "for what?" I know a lot of really smart people who have great vocabularies but don't spell very well. Their large vocabularies serve them well in their fields, but they probably wouldn't make great copy editors or proofreaders -- for that you need vocabulary and spelling.

Anyway, MIE has returned to the publisher and I have a free weekend. I learned a lot though, about enzymes and hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factor. I also missed a lot, because I couldn't absorb it all; I just had to push through and make sure everything was spelled and punctuated correctly and formed into proper English sentences. It's a strange kind of reading, in which I wasn't really processing the information in a completely meaningful way.

I look forward to taking up Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children once more, and, I hope, absorbing it in a much more meaningful way.


June Cutoff Cash said...

As another proofreader (who also has a blog), I am feelin' ya on the words being feasible. I proof statistics books lot, and I can promise you I have no idea what they are saying most of the time!

Catherine said...

It's gotta be a common problem... as I often say at my full-time job "I am not a cardiologist, but...."

It's nice that there's a job for (almost) every skill -- good spellers unite!

Thanks for writing!