Jobs titles aren’t simple like they used to be. No longer can you tell what a person does simply by their job title. Job titles have seen numerous trends over the years; even the formerly ubiquitous three-letter abbreviations are now being rejected in favour of trendy job titles containing terms such as Wizard, Guru, Ninja, Rockstar or Evangelist. But what about when you have a job title that is simple and that everyone has heard of but no one really knows what you do? Like us proofreaders.
When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a proofreader, I often get a similar reaction: a polite smile, perhaps a raised eyebrow, followed by ‘What’s that, exactly?’ There then follows an inordinately long period of time during which I try to explain that I work on various types of documents in order to correct grammatical and spelling errors, check for consistency in content and presentation, amend formatting, check any in-text citations and references, improve general content and flow, and adhere to any requested style guidelines. A general silence ensues as people try to think of something polite to say as it’s evident that either they don’t consider it to be a proper job or they just find it utterly boring. To us proofreaders, we do the most interesting job in the world because we love words and we love improving text. To other people, it may well be sheer torture. As a former lawyer, my specialisation is legal documents so the perceived ‘boring factor’ of my job increases ten-fold.
Despite being asked what I do for a living on many occasions, I still have not come up with a satisfactory, succinct answer to what is a very simple question. This is, of course, ironic (and not to say rather embarrassing) for someone who works with words. I clearly need to inject some pizzazz and sparkle to stop my listener glazing over.
While trying to sum up the job of a proofreader in one sentence, I stumbled on some funny job descriptions. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, requested visitors to his website to describe their job in one sentence. The Reader’s Digest website features some of the responses of his visitors and their own readers:
‘My job is to: Spend most the day looking out of the window.’ – Pilot
‘My job is to: Talk in other people’s sleep.’ – University Professor
‘My job is to: Shoot couples on their wedding day!’ – Photographer
So I am appealing to my fellow proofreaders – how do you describe our job, and can you do it in an amusing way in one sentence? Furthermore, should we be pushing for a more modern name? After all, we no longer just ‘read proofs’. In the current digital age, our work on documents far exceeds simple reading and correcting. I quite like the sound of ‘Document Improver’. At least then in response to being asked what I do, I could say (rather mysteriously and enigmatically), ‘I improve documents’.