How proofreading course students cope with a decline in standards of English


To be a successful proofreader you obviously need a good command of the language including spelling, punctuation and grammar. We tell our online proofreading course students that it’s an absolute must.

If you peruse the various websites encouraging you to take a proofreading course, you will be given this advice.

It is said that there has been a decline in the standard of English. This leaves the proof reader with a dilemma. This is because what could have been viewed as an error a few years ago might now be acceptable. Also, what might be acceptable by some, may not be by others.

Let us consider punctuation, which has to some extent shifted over the years.  When I was young, if you sent someone a letter, you addressed it thus:

Mrs. A. Smith,
45, Church St.,

The reasoning was as follows: you need a full stop after the title and initial as both are abbreviations. There is a comma at the end of the door number and end of each line. The county needs two full stops as it is an abbreviation and also the end of the address. If typing, you also had to indent five spaces at each line, not four or six.

Many of us would no doubt squeal with laughter were we expected to address an envelope like this today. What you are now likely to find is one of the more palatable Americanisms:

Ms A Smith
45 Church St

Furthermore, we have picked up post codes, which I need not go into here.

Let us now consider the flip side. I went past a place the other day and it said ‘Ealing Carer’s Agency’.  I was smart enough to work out that it represented more than one carer. If it failed to do so, running this agency would indeed be impractical. This is arguably a mistake to be avoided and corrected by a proof reader.

Unfortunately, this kind of error has become quite common place and might eventually come under the heading of ‘custom and common usage’.

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