“Could everyone please have one more look to make sure?”
It’s one of the hallmarks of email communication that you don’t hear the tone of voice in which a thing is said – hence the use of emoticons. This request was devoid of :) or >:( or even 8-0. I suspect my colleague was frustrated rather than annoyed or desperate for help.
A cautionary tale
This is the background to the email. We were asked to develop a new course. We collaborated on a proposal and sent it to the client. We were then asked to modify it, and we did. By the time we had all taken a look, the Word file was a sea of tracked changes and comment boxes. It was duly edited and refined and circulated again.
I’ll put my hand up and say that I was in the middle of something else when the revision arrived, I glanced through it, read the comments and saw nothing untoward. Another of my colleagues spotted a typo and duly reported it. Then the collator found another error and at this point realised that the client had made changes to the original that we hadn’t clocked.
So the hard-pressed collator circulated the document – could we all look at it again. By this time there was a distance of ten days since I’d read the document, my eyes were fresher, my conscience pricked, I read it carefully and picked up three infelicities of phrasing, a missing word and a typo.
A fresh pair of eyes
This little tale is cautionary, it illustrates the value of a fresh pair of eyes and distance from a text. It also shows how useful proofreaders can be. We want our course proposals to be models of excellence, but have to work hard to focus on each one afresh.
The same is true for anyone who works on similar documents for much of the time, or works where there is an iterative workflow rather than a streamlined one. The CEO’s newsletter editorial coming round for the sixth time with comments from the marketing team has a glaze-inducing quality.
Some people have the extraordinary capacity to concentrate on a document however many times they read it, but it's more normal to lose concentration and see what we think should be there after the first couple of times.
If you are reading something for the umpteenth time, try taking a break and catching up with Weird Al.
He imparts lots of useful reminders and he recommends using a proofreader.