Lessons from a Summer Spent Proofreading

As MarketSmiths’ student intern this summer, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to work with a tight-knit, dedicated team in a small business setting, doing creative work I never thought I could or would pursue professionally: writing, and more specifically, copywriting.

…Almost. Turns out, I’d arrived at just the right moment to take on a slew of unexpected proofreading assignments that everyone else, off frolicking on Copywriting Island, was more than happy to let me handle. (And I was the intern, after all.) Here are my biggest takeaways of the summer:

Punctuation Marks Are an Issue

Commas, semicolons, apostrophes, quotation marks. They confuse a lot of people, but tend mostly to follow clear rules. Hyphens, however…they’re another beast altogether. Grammar girl says it best: there are just too many exceptions to call everything relating to hyphens a rule. And that’s how the little hyphen ended up causing (me) so much grief.

“What do these heathen symbols mean and how can I best use them to mutilate my writing?”

English Grammar Is Just Plain Hard

Despite a big part of my job having been to really know grammar, it didn’t make it any easier to deal with things like parallel structure and dangling modifiers. (I had to Google both. I ended up on Google a lot.)

A Happy Client Trumps a Perfect Proofread

When your client brings you a document and wants it proofread, unless they specify otherwise, less is usually more. You’ll need to work within a fairly strict dichotomy of right and wrong–especially if your client’s a huge, compliance-minded asset management firm like The Carlyle Group, or a surgeon whose post-surgical therapies were really not to be tampered with. Even if you think something could be worded just a little bit better…unless it’s clearly wrong, too bad.

Proofreading has, without a doubt, deepened my ability to manipulate the English language at a whim. But now I’m packing my commas and gerunds—I’ve got a flight to catch out to Copywriting Island.

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