My New Year’s Resolution? Proof Everything!


By Jill O’Mahony Stewart


I can’t shake this recent email exchange tagged “Requesting input from the communications team” on a script in development.

Colleague: “I am not looking for typos or grammar help but instead more for feedback on whether or not this properly sets the stage …”

Me: [sensing my proofreading skills are not requested or required] reply with one word: “obstetrics” correcting the copy that read “obstretrics.”

Colleague: “Ha! Anything else?”

Me: “I just did a quick review. My fear is always that an early error will find its way into the final product.” [Thinking: “You specifically didn’t want me to proof it.”]

Colleague: “This is all spoken word, no text, so you don’t need to worry.”

Me thinking: “So it’s OK to be sloppy if no one sees it? Jeez.” 

Content matters. But if you make a typo, it undermines your credibility and professionalism. If you make a bunch, as this colleague does, I start wondering, “Do you know how to spell that word? Do you even know what it means? Do you proof before you push the send button?”

As for “obstretrics” – what if a guy is your narrator, and he doesn’t know this word? And the sound guy doesn’t either. And neither does the video editor of the final product. And so, you have your voice-over announcer saying something about “…obstretrics” and that reading makes it into the final version of your video.

Not cool.

Years ago, a prestigious nonprofit published an important report on “Chicago Public Schools” only “Public” was spelled without the “L” making it “Pubic.” No one caught it on the report’s cover. That is, not until a woman returning from maternity leave spotted it when the printer delivered a box of completed reports. She had “fresh eyes” and had not reviewed the copy so often she, too, glazed over the embarrassing typo as her colleagues had. The print run, I’m told, was dumped in the river and the entire report had to be reprinted, wasting time and costing money for the organization. A one letter difference between right and dumb, not to mention embarrassing.

Reread the headline for this post. Did YOU catch it?

Style matters. Everywhere. Every time. Your credibility and professionalism matter, too. Proof everything with fresh eyes.

Jill O’Mahony Stewart is a communications consultant specializing in coaching writing skills. She is also an adjunct faculty member of DePaul University’s College of Communication. She’s a pretty good proofreader, and working to become a better one.


2 thoughts on “My New Year’s Resolution? Proof Everything!

  1. I get it. But are you really planning to proof the already-published newspaper each day next year, as the photo implies? Is that the most valuable use of time and effort (focusing on outcomes), or is it better to spend that time doing something like teaching young people style (focusing on inputs)? I’m open to understanding.

    And if you used that photo without thinking it might lead someone to believe you plan to edit the newspaper each day (given the headline “Proof Everything” adjacent to the picture) I suggest a proofer of the proofer might be necessary!

    OK…I couldn’t resist. Happy New Year, Ron.

    1. Good point, Al. Building on your suggestion, I like the idea of teaching proofreading by having students edit their local newspapers. Based on my daily reading of the Chicago Tribune, there is much to be learned from the experience. Happy New Year.

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