Level Three Proof EverythingBe Methodical

There are two kinds of third-level projects: communications for which you are responsible for writing to someone else's specifications with little or no direction, and communications for which the consequences of errors are severe.

"My boss sends me E-mails with—at best—a rough draft of a message," explains Heidi, executive assistant to a consumer products company's senior vice president. "The projects range from an E-mail to all vice presidents about some policy change to a five-page proposal to another corporation's president presenting a global cobranding initiative.

"Sometimes he'll jot down a sentence or two, sometimes he'll write theoretically about what he wants to accomplish, and sometimes he'll do both at the same time. It's my job to take whatever he gives me and produce a finished document ready for his signature. We joke that my responsibility is to 'proof' his work. But we both know that this is way beyond traditional proofreading. It's really writing, editing, and proofing."

Heidi's approach to creating finished documents is an example of the third level of proofing. Her projects have the following attributes:

• external, and potentially part of the public record

• usually complex

• usually formal

• medium to high risk, with significant consequences associated with errors or inaccuracies

Ray, a physical therapist, says that he has to write a monthly article of about five hundred words for his organization's newsletter. "Five hundred words is a lot. That's a long article compared to the rest of the newsletter. Having that amount of space allows me to go into a fair amount of detail. It's imperative that my articles be clear and accurate. Our newsletter targets people who are recovering from sports injuries. The readers are usually anxious and may not know a lot about the subject matter. Clarity is my most important goal. However, because the newsletters are distributed to the community through doctors' offices, the public library, schools, and the recreation department, they are public documents. My boss once told me that I should always write about med ical subjects as though the article would end up as evidence in a courtroom someday. So I'm very cautious. It's important to me personally and professionally that they be correct, grammatical, complete, and clear."

Ray's articles are another example of proofing at the third level. They have these qualities:

• external, and potentially part of the public record

• high risk, with severe consequences associated with inaccuracies

Your first task is to identify which level of editing is appropriate for you. If you proof everything in every project, you'll spend needless time and effort for no or little reward. On the other hand, if you don't proof everything on certain projects, you risk costly mistakes.

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