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Behind the Textbook: Proofs

posted: 9.12.12 by Barclay Barrios

Last year I did a series of posts about the process of putting together a composition reader Behind the Textbook. Consider this the (hopefully) last post in that series, since I am right now in the middle of working on the page proofs for the text, which is due out in January.

The work involved at this stage is familiar to all of us as teachers of writing—essentially, it is proofreading the entire book. I log into the Bedford servers, download huge chunks of the text in PDF format, and read through each page looking for errors and omissions. It’s somewhat tedious work and certainly engenders in me a certain degree of sympathy for students, who have to go through something like this process weekly in the classes I teach. However, the entire experience has me reflecting on proofreading writ large.

What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, for starters, I devote very careful attention to this work because of the stakes involved. Soon, these pages will be printed as a book and at that point the text is out of my hands. I’m not surprised, then, that students often proofread so poorly or not at all. Specifically, I wonder what stakes they see in their writing—just a grade, perhaps? I’d hope more and I am wondering how I might get students to invest more heavily in their texts, to see them as something worth the care and attention that proofreading requires.

It’s also a useful reminder to me about just what proofreading is. In this case, it actually is reading the proofs, which isn’t something students are likely to encounter. But on a larger level, it’s the final stage of production and the chance not to change content but only to catch errors. That’s a notion I might find useful in the classroom as students struggle to understand the differences between things like revising, editing, and proofreading.

Finally, part of what enables me to get through this work is knowing that mine are not the only eyes reviewing the proofs. There’s a whole team also doing this work, and that’s reassuring. The mistake I miss may be the one they catch. I’m wondering, then, how to make proofreading a more collaborative act in the classes I teach. Yes, it’s part of the peer revision process, but through the work I am doing now I am coming to see that’s the wrong place to incorporate it. I’m thinking about adding a session for students to collaboratively proof their work before handing it in—a mirror of the process I am going through now.

When I’m finished reading these pdf files, I’ll be thinking about how to encourage my students to invest in their writing, to see proofreading as a crucial final stage, and to work together to polish their texts to the greatest degree possible.

 

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