The Power of the Red Pen

by Laurie Lindemeier

Proofreading in the Clinical Trials Industry

Proofreading has taken on many forms over the centuries, from monks striving for accuracy as they hand-copied books by candlelight, to the modern-day English teacher’s red pen guiding students to improve their writing.

I can recall as a college junior being awarded the academic assistant position in the English Department. One of my tasks involved sitting in a professor’s office late at night correcting grammar and punctuation on freshmen essays. Night after night I locked the door and plodded through papers, marking them with the infamous red pen. As 2 a.m. and empty cans of Mountain Dew all rolled around together, my mind blurred. The essays and my eyes became bloodshot. Thankfully, those freshmen and I survived to enjoy the luxury of instant spell and grammar checks as we type, and comment bubble insertions, rather than scribbles in the margins of hard copies.

Nonetheless, one must keep in mind that convenient proofreading aids in our software do not replace the reason and associative skills needed for the final polish on documents prior to publication.

As a technical writer and proofreader in the clinical trials industry, I work on a myriad of materials that must engage audiences of both patients and physicians. Different levels of reading comprehension and education, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds are considered with every project. How a particular word may be seen through the eyes of a patient or doctor is applied to the material for best understanding and impact.

Although hard copies of brochures and patient letters are needed, many of the documents for clinical trials are now digital and never reach a printing press. Much of the communication and writing materials I proofread are broadcast and digital materials such as a radio scripts or websites.

To keep up with the pace, a proofreader has the resources of online style guides and search tools that quicken the process of evaluating if a word or phrase is 6th grade or college reading level, acceptable in British and American English, offensive to a particular culture, or any number of criteria that must be examined. New grammatical and text verification tools are being developed all the time which aid in the process to polish content in publications to a lovely shine.

Many of us have had the experience of spellcheck overstepping its boundaries in helping us type a text, but in the long run I’m suspicious that most people are quite appreciative of the tools and the people who check our spelling in documents and emails as we type. Companies do recognize the value of the proofreading in the publication process as well.

Have you hugged your proofreader today? I hope so.

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