I’m going to start with a confession: I recently turned in a paper about Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady” with a grievous mistake in the opening sentence. I called the novel “A Portrait of a Lady.” Needless to say, it was extremely embarrassing to have the paper returned to me with my GSI’s kind correction changing the name of the book about which I was supposed to be offering educated commentary. I can make excuses about why I made the mistake: I hate writing opening sentences, I was a little rushed for time, I had a brain aneurysm. But what really happened was I didn’t proofread my introductory paragraph properly.
In college, everyone seems to be stressed about time. Running from one class to another, going from class to a club meeting, grabbing dinner on the way to a study session and exhaustedly climbing the stairs home to begin a long night of studying and reading, little details can start to slip through the cracks. We send off texts without paying attention to what we’re saying or respond to emails without a second glance over what we’ve written. Just scrolling through my Facebook feed for 10 minutes, I can count multiple instances of mistaken uses of “you’re” and “your” and far too many incoherent comments. I, for one, try to proofread everything I write (we’ve obviously forgotten the James debacle). I want to move quickly, but I also want to move accurately. I don’t want to be the one who sends an email to my boss using the wrong tone or making obvious grammatical errors; I want my friends to think I have my life together when I send a text, so I put in the extra effort and make sure to use proper punctuation and correct spelling. It doesn’t end up taking that much time, and it always makes for a better result.
It’s not the end of the world to make a mistake when you’re conversing with people or writing an academic paper, but it is noticeable when a person has solid writing skills and pays attention to what he or she has written. Because people move so quickly today, mistakes are common, and not making them can shed a brighter light on your abilities as a thinker and as a writer. You don’t have to be a grammar prodigy or a crazy, compulsive editor to give off the image of a well-spoken, literate young adult — just taking a few seconds to look over an email or a few minutes to read over a paper can save your face and your grade. Proofreading pays — it fixes mistakes, ensures accuracy and is always worth the extra time.