A study in February this year showed that a university graduate in England achieving a 2:1 or above will earn approximately 8% more per annum than a graduate with a 2:2 or below. With the average wage in England at around £27,000 that means an extra £2,700 per year on what can be a very fine academic line. The question is, when do you begin making sure you end up on the right side of that line? If you are anywhere on the education ladder above GCSE the answer is, now! Moreover, as you progress through the system it becomes harder to bridge the gap you need to overcome. If you are on the eve of final exams and you have a steady 2:2, making a 2:1 or higher is almost impossible; however, if you are beginning your A-Levels then the improvements you make now will have a lasting effect, decreasing or eliminating that gap altogether. Indeed, judging by the work I have done with students, the two most significant leaps in writing standards are from GCSE to A-Level and A-Level to University, and for the most part students are left to figure out how to manage those transitions themselves. All of this moves me towards another question; how much would you pay to increase your chances of a bigger salary and all the benefits that come with that? That is why when I am asked why I charge what I do for tutoring writing, my reply is “I charge only for my time”.
Most of the tutees I work with are studying for their A-level exams. And most of those are failing to match their expectations. And most of those do not know why. The answer is almost always in their writing. The biggest issue is the perceived connection between complexity and success: the more complex the sentence, the more sophisticated it appears, and the more intelligent the tutee. Indeed, their writing grows ever more complicated even as their grades fall, yet the tutee rarely sees the correlation. My first task when brought in as a ‘firefighter’ is to analyse a tutee’s writing. My second is to simplify. Tutees look on with something approaching horror when my red pen massacres their adverbs and adjectives, and I often feel their eyebrows sink when I bludgeon their colons, semi-colons, and commas. The purpose of all this red ink though is to retune the tutee’s mind to the importance of simple, effective communication. I bring them back to the basic structure of subject, verb, object, from which everything else flows. Once they understand that, once the clutter is gone, my tutees can get on with demonstrating their knowledge and improving their grades. Simples!
There is a language to proofreading; a series of squiggles and signs that indicate errors. And finding errors is the only function of proofreading. The problem with such a code, as with any language, is that both parties have to understand its meaning, and few do, especially outside of the publishing business. I have yet to meet a student who knows it. Moreover, most of the writing I receive to work on contains problems in a number of areas, not just a final tidy-up and check for glitches. Therefore, what I mean by proofreading is that final edit, the polish that comes after all the other problems are fixed. However, I work on the various problems in a text as part of the editing process, and proofreading is buried in that process, so typos, grammar errors etc are removed immediately rather than remedially. The result is usually a lot of red ink and sometimes a disheartened client, but the task of editing and proofreading is condensed and therefore more efficient and cost effective. So get ready to see red ink all over your hard work but understand the benefits to your text and your bank account.
When I marked papers as Graduate Assistant and then as a teacher, I would hand back any papers that had more than a few spelling or grammar errors. My rationale was that if the student could not be bothered preparing the paper properly then why should I be bothered marking it. That was many years ago. It felt like a losing battle then and feels like one now when I review books or read student papers that are full of errors. The modus operandi appears to be it is easier to make the mistake then apologize. The problem with that is by the time you come to apologize it may be too late to rectify the damage you have caused by making a poor first impression, and reputations are often built on the competence of the first action not the reaction. In publishing, that leads to reduced sales, and avoidance of your work by potential readers; for students, that could be the difference between an A and a B. That is why hiring a proofreader is important, even if just to put a last objective pair of eyeballs on a piece of writing. Your final point on your writing checklist then should be the first item you write down: proofread!