Friday, October 28, 2011

it's in Cthulhu's tentacles now

I've done all I can for the paper I've been proofreading. The process has taken the better part of two weeks, involving numerous email exchanges (mainly because I had to request clarifications) and several waves of proofing. Even as recently as this morning, I was catching things I had missed.

For me, at least, proofreading has to happen in waves, like the repeated sweeps of a radar. The first wave is the most important: it clears up about 90% of the clutter: all the botched phrasing, the misused vocabulary, the mangled-and-left-for-dead punctuation. The subsequent waves are part of a mopping-up action: during these waves, I find the errors that aren't visible when you look at them directly, and I deal with the more stubbornly tangled turns of phrase. Along with mopping up, then, there's a good bit of smoothing out. The goal is to get the paper as readable and natural-sounding as possible, without sacrificing either the author's arguments and intended meanings or the author's voice. The latter risk is, in my opinion, more of a danger than the former: preserving the author's arguments is easy enough, but if I replace one awkward word with another word that's not part of the author's active vocabulary, I risk making the author sound like someone she isn't.

There were moments during my proofing of M's paper where I wondered whether I had in fact picked le mot juste. Even now, despite my having given the paper back to M, I'm unsure of the way she used the word "ideological" in her writing. In the end, I took the risk of letting her diction stand on the assumption that ideological has a particular technical valence in her field of study (American and British literature).

At this point, it's no longer my problem. I hope M's paper is well-received by the peninsular scholarly community; when she sends her paper overseas as part of her grad school application, I hope her readers view her favorably. I wonder, though, what they're going to think when they start emailing her, and receive emails from her that display a distinctly lower quality of English than what appears in her paper. For all I know, the US-based scholars may have a cynical awareness of the problem, and may have resigned themselves to the notion that scholars from East Asia generally need a coterie of proofreaders to make themselves sound coherent. I hope that's not the case: I'm all for high academic standards. If a person writes so poorly as to require extensive, detailed proofreading simply to make a research paper readable, then I'd submit that that individual isn't ready to play in the big leagues of American scholarship.


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