Proofreading and the Elusive Search for “Just Grammar”

Before we jump into the specific arguments made in Can You Proofread This? it might be useful to hear from you all about your experiences so far when you’re working with students. Show of hands: who’s had some experience so far in which a student (either one-on-one or in a group) has asked someone, “Can you proofread this?” or “I’d just like you to check it for grammar”? (As we’ll discuss, these two questions are somewhat analogous–but in some cases might not be.)

So first: situations in which you’ve been asked to proofread or focus on grammar. Maybe you talked about this in your commonplace books? I have the paper versions of your CPBs for you; I’ll read the Google Docs-versions this weekend and then enter the number of complete entries I found into BBL.

What do we imagine students mean when they ask this? Young says up front that they could mean a lot of things–a lot of aspects of the writing process or of their writing “product,” their essay or paper. Did you learn later that they meant something else–as Young suggests–or did you discover some hidden elements in the paper that immediately seemed more important to you?

Next thing: what do words like “proofread” or “grammar” mean to us? How does one look at a draft when proofreading, and what does one do when checking grammar? (Are we still reading, qua reading, when checking grammar?)

I’m interested because again we’re involved in a situation that’s half about writing and writing pedagogy . . . and half psychology. We trust that students are telling the truth about their desires, but may not know how to read or reread their paper effectively, so may not spot the kinds of things we’d see as “outsiders.”

So let’s debate it! First let’s list the reasons Young gives for proofreading in this essay and for not. Then I’ll ask you to vote by standing up and moving to where your position is, along a continuum of YES to NO with the middle being MAYBE or OTHER. Then we’ll discuss in groups. And vote again!

I’ll end by linking particularly to the ideas in the Appendices. Appendix A offers great strategies for working one-on-one with writers; Appendix D gives us a list of priorities based on years of research in composition and rhetoric.

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Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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