Picking Pickles is Like Proofing Prose


Here’s another pickle picture. I know I’ve posted a lot of them lately, but in my garden this has been the year of pickles—they just keep coming and coming! Technically, they’re cucumbers while still on the vine and they become pickles after I can them, but for the sake of alliteration I’m going with pickles (I mention alliteration, which is the use of words that begin with the same sound, not because I’m trying to be all smarty pants, but because in the end this post is really about prose, not pickles).

Picking pickles is a real trick. You’ve got green on green and no matter how hard you look, you inevitably miss some. My practice is to pick down a row in one direction, then turn around and pick that same row again from the other direction. Still, there are those fugacious few that escape my eye until, whammo, they’ve grown into glaringly huge monsters.

Metaphorically speaking, picking pickles is like proofing prose. First you read through and pick out obvious errors. Then you read through again and again, checking for grammar, facts, consistency, and so much more. Some editors even read the content backwards, separating each word from the other, just so they can focus on spelling. They each have their own method, but no matter how they do it, editors all comb through content as meticulously as I do my rows of pickles (of course, probably much more so).

Because editing your own written copy, or copy that you’ve laid out for design, is super hard to do, professional proofers are integral members of the team. Professionals like Amanda Swiontek. Every year I do graphic design for the Wisconsin Lutheran State Teachers’ Conference. And every year Amanda edits the written copy and my layout work for both the online registration and the conference booklet. She’s got an eagle’s eye and an ultra-sharp red pen. Not only is she good, but she makes the rest of us look good too.

Thanks Amanda for your great work—I owe you a jar of pickles!

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