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Posted in 2016

This was my first year of blogging, and I started in June


How to work as a proofreader Posted on 3 June 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

I was asked to write on this title, but I am not too sure about writing a "how-to" for this; anyone in the trade will almost certainly devise their own ways of working. All I am competent to do is to tell how I work as a proofreader. Until I see the document, I have been taking the client’s word for its size, and assumed its quality ... Read more

How to become a proofreader Posted on 14 June 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

Becoming a proofreader is not actually that difficult. You just call yourself one. Being a good proofreader, and thus getting repeat business, is something entirely different. Being a proofreader means you are going to be checking other people’s writings, correcting the bits that don’t work, suggesting better ways to write some of the stuff they have written ... Read more


English – what a strange language (1) Posted on 5 July 2016 by James Cowan in English language

English must be hellish to learn as an adult. No doubt about it. We use words from other languages, some of them with odd characteristics (e.g. "kudos" is not a plural!). To an outsider, English-speakers may seem to be using rules they make up as they go along. And so we do, when we speak, the context, tone and even body language allowing a reasonable ... Read more

Some of the mechanicals of blogging Posted on 15 July 2016 by James Cowan in Blogs about blogging; Proofreading

I am very conscious of the way documents, including emails and blogs, read. And of course, beside the message you want to share, the way you put it together is also a message. So let me explain what I do when I am setting up a blog entry. The most fundamental thing I do is to write it offline, in a word-processor. This gives me ... Read more

Proofreaders – who needs them? Posted on 25 July 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

If you are writing for business or profit, then YOU do. That counts OUT people who are writing assignments, or their own diary. It also counts out many contributors to Facebook. But it definitely counts IN people who write any kind of books (particularly the self-publishers; a publisher will get your work proofread for you), articles, theses, all kinds of reports, estimates, quotes, contracts, business letters, press releases, blogs, website content ... Read more


What does proofreading cost? Posted on 4 August 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

It depends. Some proofreaders publish their rates, and some do not. We do not. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that what we charge is based on the difficulty of the work we do. That is, on the time we take. Sure, we ask for a word count to base our estimate on, but until we see the work, we only use that as an approximation. There are a lot of things that can affect how hard the job is. It boils down to how well it has ... Read more

Why do people write badly? Posted on 14 August 2016 by James Cowan in Bad writing

Let’s start off by accepting that most people don’t set out to write badly. Some do, of course, but it’s generally for a specific purpose – to offend, or for effect – and done from a position of knowledge. Nevertheless, a lot of people do write badly; you don’t have to wander far in the blogosphere or Facebook to find examples. But why is it so common? We learn our first language from people who are not teaching it. People we trust. People whose definition of the language we never question. Our parents, our siblings, and our ... Read more

Why get your work reviewed? Posted on 24 August 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

I have mentioned in earlier blog posts that a writer should get their work checked by someone else before “publishing” it. The word is in inverted commas because the definition depends on the purpose of the manuscript – a quotation is published when it is sent to the client; a blog when it is posted; a magazine article when it is sent to the editor. It’s all very well to check your own work, after letting it settle for a while: you will probably pick up the issues of duplicated words; you may pick up grammar, punctuation and word-choice ... Read more


English – what a strange language (2) Posted on 03 September 2016 by James Cowan in English language

Once the basic structure of English became fixed, and spelling, with the invention of the printing press (and the dictionary!), the English people were great at travelling all over the World, and bringing back words that they found useful to add to the general hodgepodge. They probably weren’t unique in this, but I am not concerned, here, with the story of other languages. Not even of American. So users of English are familiar with “agenda” from Latin, “criteria”, from ancient Greek (even if not with the fact that this is the plural ... Read more

WordPress notes Posted on 13 September 2016 by James Cowan in WordPress

I started this site in its latest incarnation, anyway – in WordPress. The observant (or knowledgeable) among you may have noticed that the look and feel of this site is not standard WordPress. You’re right. WordPress is a great package, and it allows for all manner of good things to happen with no programming knowledge or skill. I use it still, but not here. WordPress is "open source" software. That means that though there is a coordinating group ... Read more

Troublesome words Posted on 23 September 2016 by James Cowan in Troublesome words

"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean" – Humpty Dumpty, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Sadly, while Humpty Dumpty may have been able to give words meanings that suited him at the time, the rest of us are forced to use them to mean what the people we are trying to communicate with will understand them to mean. Consequences not predictable. There are a lot of words in English that sound the same as other words with completely different meanings. Which,
as a friend of mine recently drew to my attention, can confuse dictation software no end – another good reason for ... Read more


More art than science Posted on 03 October 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

In earlier blogs I have talked of the weirdness of the English language. In this one I want to talk of the "art" of the proofreader’s role. To recap, English is not a rule-based language, in the way a programming language is. There is a structure, a template, but there are rarely instances where English is wrong – unlike German, where a verb has to be at the end of a sentence, for example. English is a language based on conventions, not rules, and the conventions can be flouted at any time, provided it fits the context. This is where the proofreader’s art and experience come in. Obviously, if you are going to dispense with a convention, you have to do so with care, or else your meaning may not be ... Read more

Why use jargon? Posted on 13 October 2016 by James Cowan in Jargon

First, what is jargon? Jargon, to me, is technical terminology used in an inappropriate context. For example, if a doctor tells a patient they are suffering from "bronchiectasis", unless the patient is medically knowledgeable, that is jargon. If the same term is used between medically-trained people, it is not jargon, it is concisely descriptive of a nasty lung condition. Note that what I am NOT saying is that technical terms are automatically incorrect (whether they are used correctly or not is not in the scope of this post!), what I am saying is that the context is important. It is the usage, not the ... Read more

Thoughts on punctuation (1) Posted on 23 October 2016 by James Cowan in Punctuation

Funny thing, punctuation. Like the indicators on a car, it can signal a change of direction – though it doesn't actually make the change. But it can add emphasis, and occasionally entirely upset the meaning of a statement. There are 15 or 16 different punctuation marks, depending on who you ask and what you are prepared to recognise as punctuation. I don't imagine that anyone will have issues with the inclusion of the full stop (US: period) ("."), the comma (","), the exclamation mark (US: exclamation point) ("!"), the question mark ("?"), the colon (":"), or the semicolon ... Read more


Using a proofreading service versus software Posted on 02 November 2016 by James Cowan in Automation; Proofreading

I suppose if you can teach a car to drive itself by learning from how a lot of people drive (although that can lead to questions about how you pick the exemplars), it should be possible to teach software to proofread any manuscript and render it polished and perfect. However, I remain open to conviction. (And the issue of choosing examples remains!) To start with, terms. "Proofreading service" means someone like Perfectly Worded, a group of folks who live in ... Read more

Troublesome words 2 Posted on 12 November 2016 by James Cowan in Troublesome words

Here is another tranche of words that are frequently misused or misunderstood. "Flout" and "flaunt" are similar in sound, but not in meaning. You flout rules when you deliberately break them – for whatever reason. When you drive faster than the limit, you "flout" the law; when you deliberately mismatch the subject and the verb of a sentence, you "flout" the conventions. The latter example may be acceptable depending on the context; the former example is less likely ... Read more

Think about your writing! Posted on 22 November 2016 by James Cowan in Blogs about blogging; Writing

As I write my blog posts, I try to ensure that I express exactly what I mean to in a way that I don't assume you, Dear eader, need to understand anything that I have not made explicit. So everything you need to know to comprehend the post before you is itself before you. Not, as they say, rocket science. I take this rule further, when I am proofreading the work of others. If what they are trying to say requires that I, in my role as a reader, bring specialist information to that role, then the writing is not ... Read more


Thoughts about blogging 2 Posted on 2 December 2016 by James Cowan in Blogs about blogging

Because I have come to the art (science?) of blogging relatively recently, and because I have had a number of ideas come to me sooner than they were needed, I have been writing my blogs way ahead of the time I need them. At the time I started this entry, it was one of 15 unpublished blogs. I post about every 10 days, so if all the ones I had not yet posted (including this one) was complete, I would ... Read more

English is changing all the time Posted on 12 December 2016 by James Cowan in English is changing

Some time ago I was invited to talk about the meanings of words that are commonly misused, and how they should be used correctly – and perhaps the options for using other words in their place. To my horror, I found that in the time since I had learned them, the meanings of almost all the words I wanted to talk about had changed, to reflect the usages which were making me grind my teeth. One example: "comprise" and "compose" used ... Read more

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