I have heard the dialogue on this hundreds of times. Proofread your papers – even one typo will discredit you! I have regularly seen professors interject some warning on their syllabi and essay prompts that too many typos will result in a lower grade. Typos are symbols of laziness, or at worst, mistaken for a lack of understanding of the correct spelling or grammar. An unfortunately placed typo will confuse and even alter the meaning of an important sentence.
I have, for whatever reason, always begrudged the task of proofreading. Once you fully understand all the mechanics of writing and are able to wield them to powerful effect, going back and playing seek-and-find with autocorrect mistakes is the unpleasant brunt work of writing. It is like the task of cleaning up the poop in the animal cages is to a zoologist. Necessary, but menial and not enjoyable.
In spite of the fact that I do often proofread my own work, some error or another usually slips past. (See my Writing Sample post for details) The longer my paper is, the more inertia I experience in going about the task of proofreading. Moreover, I find the process of proofreading my writing maddeningly inefficient. Once I am intimately acquainted with a piece of writing, my brain just corrects mistakes as I’m reading. Sometimes, I will go back to a piece I wrote weeks ago and wonder how a typo could have been so blatantly staring me in the face and I still didn’t notice it.
In order to effectively proofread my own work, I need to somehow alienate myself from what I know I meant to say. And that takes time and effort. I’ve even had professors recommend reading your paper sentence by sentence backwards to catch mistakes. If it’s a short response, ok, that’s possible. If it’s a 20 page research paper with gaggles of footnotes and citations? Forget it. That’s time that could be spent sprucing up my conclusion or tackling some or reconsidering that one paragraph that never quite felt right.
The other issue is that when you are a student, you are always working on a short deadline. On top of that, you probably have other papers due at the exact same time. You don’t have the luxury of having your editor go over your writing before it’s published. There is always more that could be done to improve a high-order concern. I feel that I can’t justify setting down my pen to read it over until the last possible second – and well, that means a few typos will sneak their way past.
After my fiasco with my writing sample, I went through a cautious phase. I decided that I needed to finish my papers in enough time to clean everything up. In effort to plan everything out and get it done early, my ideas ended up being too safe. I realized my frenzied writing process, scribbled in a coffee-induced haze, was an inseparable part of my critical voice. In my old ways, I would go up to the last minute reading articles, free writing ideas, scratching entire paragraphs, and rearranging the structure of my paper the night before it was due because a brilliant idea came to me. My polished typo-free paper lacked my signature lofty ambition.
I know the arguments. You’ll say that if I get my priorities straight I should have time to do both – come up with a brilliant paper that is polished as well. Maybe this isn’t as big of an issue for others. I do read my papers over before I turn them in.Yet, somehow when I do that last read-through of my paper before I turn it in I just don’t catch all the mistakes. It’s usually after I get it back and reread it that I realize there were a few awkward typos.
Is it laziness that leads me to disdain proofreading? Is it poor taste? Is it arrogance? I still haven’t quite found that happy medium where a paper is polished, but not too safe. The truth is I value wild ambition and big ideas over simple, clean, and buffed to a shine. Just take a look at my closet (but really, don’t). It’s not that I think a sloppy, haphazard paper is a good thing. It’s not. I’m talking about those persistent little typos that you just don’t notice when you’re in basking in the hyper frenzy of having put the finishing touches on an awesome paper at the last minute.
How much time do you leave to proofread your papers? Do you think the presence of typos in your writing detracts from how professional it sounds?
P.S. pardon my typos