You say potatoes. That's what I said: tomatoes!Our household is in the midst of what I will call post-Windows10-update-all-fed-up-with-this-now horror with one particular laptop. In the course of the many tasks needed to rescue the situation, I was reading some forum posts about saving and moving Thunderbird email profiles because we ended up having to create a new user account. Now, I know how to do this, and have done it many times before, but what would normally take me minutes on my own computer just wasn’t happening on the troublesome laptop, so I was looking for clues.

One particular forum question caught my eye. Someone was looking for help in removing thousands of mozmsgs files and folders that had suddenly appeared in her profile. A ‘helpful’ technically-minded volunteer stepped in to give her instructions on what to do. He told her she could indeed just delete the offending files from [long folder and subfolder file path].

Shortly afterwards the original poster came back to say thanks, the files and folders had now been cleaned away, but did he know why she now couldn’t see any of her email messages? Slowly it dawned that what he meant her to do was to go to the exact subfolder within the subfolder within the subfolder … (you get the gist?) and delete only the mozmsg files, not everything in that long file path. But, following his instructions to the letter, she had inadvertently deleted all of her emails as well. Not a happy outcome.

So here’s the connection to editing and proofreading of course! When writing anything – your website, a letter, an instruction manual, or even a forum post – make sure that what you write does actually say what you mean it to say. It’s easy to forget what your readers don’t know: all the background stuff that makes the meaning clear in your head. Just reading it again (and again) yourself doesn’t always help, because you can’t ‘unknow’ what you already know about it.

The same goes for spotting spelling mistakes or tyops [only kidding – typos]. It’s very hard to spot them in your own writing because your brain sees what it thinks you’ve written rather than what’s actually on the page.

It’s therefore well worth having someone else read what you have written to make sure that you are getting your message across clearly. If need be, have them repeat back to you in their own words what it means. If it isn’t quite what you intended then something needs to be tweaked.

For writing that really matters, consider hiring a professional proofreader or copy-editor rather than relying on friends or colleagues. The upfront cost invariably pays dividends later on.

It’s part of a copy-editor’s job to make sure that your meaning is clear for your particular reader audience, so if we think something might be misunderstood we’ll flag up the issues for you. For example, writers who don’t have English as their first language often use the wrong words because they’ve found them via online translation, or use an unfortunate turn of phrase that means something entrely different in colloquial English. And it’s amazing how many times I’ve heard about cookery recipes missing out some of the listed ingredients, or in the reverse listing ingredients that there are no instructions for.

There’s a perfect proofreader or editor for every situation in the SfEP online directory. If you need someone to check over your writing, search the directory for your subject topic or required skills.

By the way, I upgraded two other PCs to Windows 10 easily and without fuss, so it’s not all bad! The laptop saga, however, continues…