A question of skill

Following on from the last blog, I thought I'd look at the following question: Are people born to engineer or to proofread?

Well, there are certain traits that help you out with both and I would argue that many of the same skills are beneficial in both cases:

Attention to detail

This is obvious in proofreading and engineering. A comma in the wrong place can change a meaning, and the Mariner 1 space mission was famously downed by an error made when transcribing a mathematical symbol into the program code.

Seeing the bigger picture

While attention to detail is the classic proofreading skill, I believe that seeing the bigger picture is the secret weapon of both engineering and proofreading. Sometimes a document has time for only one check before submission and in these cases, you have to focus on the things that matter most.

You can worry about standardising to European or British norms on paint selection but if you miss the deadline and fail to paint the steels before they are shipped to build the bridge, well then you really are in trouble. Likewise with proofreading: the cost of missing a publication deadline might outweigh that extra read through.

Embracing tools and technology

As Word spellchecker advances, so too do the professional editing tools that help us to craft and apply our improvements consistently and quickly – bringing costs down and quality up.

Coding in MATLAB can let you get a coffee and cake in the time it would have taken you to do the same engineering work in Excel. Macros to pick up on consistency issues will certainly save time compared with manually logging every instance of certain words and cross-referring them in the file.

Working with others

Communication is key, and you simply must establish a clear scope of works at the start of a project. In any large engineering firm, this clearly involves liaising with different departments, internal and external, and ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goal.

Any established proofreader will confirm that when a non-publisher client says that they want a proofread, they could actually want a copy-edit or a substantive edit. Even trickier still, it could be that – professionally speaking – their document may actually require something totally different. That's why I made the table of services to help clarify the scope and set the foundations of a good working relationship.