Laura Ripper, School Proof
Is it reasonable to expect a teacher’s written English to be faultless?
Many people seem to expect teachers to be able to send home reports without making a single mistake – but they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if a best-selling author had their book copy-edited or a professional copywriter had their website text proofread. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s because school reports are so highly valued – what a teacher writes about how a child is doing at school makes a lasting impression on the family, and the reports are often kept for many years. For some, the quality of the report reflects the quality of the education that the school provides. A carefully written report, free from mistakes, sets a good example to students too.
But every writer makes ‘slips of the pen’ with grammar, spelling and punctuation – best-selling authors, proofreaders (especially in emails to important clients) and, yes, teachers.
So how can a professional proofreader help?
Spotting typos any writer could miss
When you’re focusing on the overall gist of what you want to say, it’s difficult to concentrate on the detail. It’s easy to type ‘form’ instead of ‘from’ or ‘god’ instead of ‘good’. It’s just as common to miss out an article (for example, ‘Hannah is wonderful student’). Or Autocorrect might decide that you want to key in ‘defiantly’ instead of ‘definitely’. Copying a generic sentence from one report to another can lead to the wrong name or gender being used.
It’s normal for any writer to make these kinds of slips. Even if you have time to check your reports, you might not spot a mistake. That’s because your brain wants you to see what you think you’ve written, not what’s actually there. Spellcheck won’t pick up on these things, so they can easily end up in the final version.
A proofreader won’t have seen your reports before, so they won’t have any expectations about what you’ve written. That makes it easier for them to notice typos, repeated or missing words, and other mistakes that we all make when writing.
Language evolves, and the grammar ‘rules’ that were accepted a little while ago might now have changed or be thought of only as matters of style.
What’s more, a thorough knowledge of grammar isn’t what makes a brilliant art, maths, PE, IT or science teacher. Some teachers (for example, native speakers of languages taught) might speak English as a second language.
Just like many other professionals, teachers might confuse ‘practice’ (the noun) with ‘practise’ (the verb) or accidentally write ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’.
A professional proofreader deals with usage points every day as part of their job, so they’re in an ideal position to pick up on anything that doesn’t sound natural.
In secondary-school reports, subject teachers usually write different sections of the same student’s report. Even if all the teachers have perfect English, that can lead to inconsistencies.
For example, in UK English, if one teacher writes that a student is very ‘organised’ and another writes that the student is ‘organized’, neither teacher is wrong – it’s a style choice. But to the person reading the whole report, these variations can look like mistakes.
Some schools like to be consistent about certain style choices – for example, whether or not to capitalise subject names, use abbreviations, allow contractions, use students’ pet names or use ‘-ise’ or ‘-ize’ endings.
Professional proofreaders can help by ironing out these kinds of inconsistencies, keeping to the school’s style preferences across all the reports. Using software – as well as a trained human eye – makes this process as accurate and speedy as possible, meaning it’s cost-effective for the school.
Checking the meaning is clear
When you’re pushed for time, it’s more difficult to check that what you’ve written is clear enough for parents and students to understand. Sometimes, because you know what you intended to say, you won’t notice that a sentence is ambiguous. The length of a sentence can get out of hand too, making it harder for the reader to follow your train of thought.
Added to that, it’s easy to use jargon and abbreviations that parents might not be familiar with.
Professional proofreaders are trained to spot these issues and correct them, suggest an alternative or write a query so you can put it right. All this helps to make sure that your writing expresses what you want to say and to avoid any misunderstandings between teachers and parents.
Proofreaders can also point out any contradictions between teachers’ comments, along with any language that doesn’t set the tone your school prefers (for example, colloquial expressions or language that could be misconstrued).
Saving you time
Teachers often have to write numerous reports in a short space of time. Because the reports have to be up to date, you can’t take weeks to write and then check them. So, as mentioned in this article in the Times Educational Supplement, reports are ‘often written as rush-jobs, late into the night, by teachers with other things on their minds’.
Sending the reports off to a professional proofreader can free up teachers and other staff to do the work that they do best. That means fewer members of staff have to spend time checking the reports. Often, the reports can be checked more quickly too, as a result of greater efficiency.
All this means teachers can spend the limited time they’ve set aside for writing reports on what matters most: telling parents about how their children are doing at school.
The checks that a professional proofreader is trained to do all help schools make sure that good-quality reports are sent home, creating a good impression and building the school’s reputation.
Your chosen proofreader is there to provide support, checking your reports with thought and care so you can feel confident when they go out. That frees you up to focus on what’s most important – teaching!
If you’d like to find out more about working with a proofreader, please feel free to contact us.
Helen Stevens, School Proof
Many editors and proofreaders work alone and enjoy doing so. That’s certainly been my personal experience. Yes, I enjoy liaising with clients and colleagues – whether online or in person – but I’m perfectly happy working on my own, focusing on a piece of work for a specific client.
When it comes to proofreading school reports, though, I relish the opportunity to work closely with a colleague – SfEP Advanced Professional Member Laura Ripper – through our dedicated proofreading service, School Proof.
The partnership came about a couple of years ago when I began proofreading student reports for a school. The work was very enjoyable, but the deadlines were tight (and non-negotiable). The summer report schedule was particularly demanding, and I realised in advance that it would be difficult to fulfil it on my own.
Fortunately, Laura was willing to take on some of the school proofreading. And the rest, as they say, is History (plus Geography, French and Computer Studies).
I needed someone who was highly competent, and who could grasp the system I’d already set up (including dealing with the fact that the text was supplied in Excel). Laura came on board, quickly picked up what was required, and took to it like a duck to water. She also made some excellent suggestions on how we could improve our working methods, something that I really appreciated.
Laura and I were able to share the reports throughout the year, including the busy summer period. We developed a number of clean-up routines that we carry out before and after proofreading, using find and replace, spellcheck and tools such as PerfectIt (consistency-checking software) and macros. We focus on style points such as initial capitals on subject names, punctuation preferences and the names of extra-curricular clubs and activities. We look out for commonly confused words (flare/flair, practice/practise, rigor/rigour). We check the spelling of student names and make sure the full name is used (the school style is for no nicknames or shortened forms). And during the proofreading itself we check the usual things – spelling, grammar, punctuation – but query anything that seems amiss.
Together we keep the style sheet up to date and customise PerfectIt to meet our proofreading requirements. When working on the reports we email each other throughout the day to discuss style points, and sometimes to alert one another to specific recurring errors in a particular set of reports. It’s good to be able to make joint decisions and to keep each other up to date with progress.
This working arrangement has been so successful that Laura and I decided to set up School Proof, a specialist proofreading service for student reports, alongside our own separate businesses.
All in all, it’s been a very positive experience. I’d give it 10 out of 10 – and long may it continue!