Chippewa Herald * December 6, 2003

Novice columnists need good proofreaders

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

This column marks my one-year anniversary as a "Community Columnist" for the Chippewa Herald. It has been a fun ride so far; it is much easier to crank out 700-800 words than I had imagined before trying it! In fact, I usually have to brutally delete entire paragraphs to get close to the maximum word count allowed.

As a novice writer, though, I do need some help. The Herald wields final editing power over anything that is printed, of course, but I figured that I needed some special tutoring since I really hadn't written much since college, other than thousands of email messages.

To this end, I set up an email list of proofreaders. These are people who not only have great skills in grammar, punctuation, and style, but who also have the courage to report their corrections and suggestions to the author.

Rather than getting input separately from each of them, we discuss all changes together on the mailing list: Every time I finish writing the draft version of a column, I toss it to the wolves to get torn apart. By doing this, we all learn from each other.

The list of proofreaders consists of seven people: Crystal Ruzicka, Terri Tompkins, Dan Burns, Libby Krause, Tina Gunther, Jim Arneberg, and Beth Arneberg. I am continually surprised by the variety of skills of each person on the list: it seems that every person has his or her own area of expertise, of things they catch that no one else caught.

Sales Representative Terri Tompkins is an old friend of mine -- er, a long-time friend -- who has a knack for nit-picking details as well as spotting awkward duplications and unnecessary repetitions. Libby Krause is the secretary at our church, and has a keen eye for spotting little grammar and punctuation problems, such as misplaced apostrophe's. Dan Burns is a manager who is really, really good at the creative side of writing.

Crystal Ruzicka, a third-grade teacher at Christ Lutheran School, is the only one of the bunch who sports a genuine degree in English. She actually has her name in a book, as one of the evaluators for the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. She offers good overall advice, and catches subtle errors like when I shifted the tense.

My kid brother, Jim, is an engineer who helps proofread from the Twin Cities. Jim is wonderfully adept at encouraging a writing style that exemplifies a lack of wordiness and excess length. (If he were editing that last sentence, he'd change it to "Jim is concise.")

Tina Gunther is probably the best proofreader I've ever met. Actually, I had never even "met" her until after I'd known her for years -- she is a library technician at Biola University in sunny California. She and her husband edit a newsletter for their local barbershop harmony chapter, and we have had a proofreading relationship over the Internet since the mid-1990s. (That's not the usual kind of internet relationship you hear about, but this one works great!) One thing that drives Tina crazy is sentences ending in ellipses (three periods)...

The final proofreader is my wife, Beth. She checks not only punctuation and grammar, but also facts, since she knows me best. She's painfully aware of some of my flaws, such as my tendency sometimes to stretch things a bit. She has caught and corrected millions of my exaggerations!

Have there been any errors that have slipped by this entire team of august proofreaders? Undoubtedly. The best one was a real doozy in my second article on digital photography in July. I had written two previous columns on taking Boy Scouts backpacking on the Ice Age Trail, so when I mentioned bicycling the Old Abe Trail in that July article, I inadvertently merged my trails: it came out "Old Age Trail." (If I had to mix them up, why couldn't I have said "Ice Abe Trail"?) We had a good laugh over that one, which we didn't see until it hit the newsstands. (I wonder if anyone else caught that error, or wondered what kind of person would hike an Old Age Trail?)

As a true test of my proofreaders' abilities, I'll see how they handle this old poem that's been around for a while. I remember using this in a barbershop chapter newsletter back in 1986 -- around the dawn of time, at least in terms of home spelling checkers. This really does pass my Linux spell checker, but you may have to read it out loud to make sense of it:


Eye halve a spelling check her;
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word,
And weight four it too say
Weather eye em wrong oar write;
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid,
It nose bee four two long;
And eye can put the error rite,
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye ran this pome write threw it,
Yule bee reel glad two no:
Its let her perfect awl the weigh;
My check her tolled me sew.


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