Nothing glamorous, but it’s a living

I’ve written only obliquely about my day job in the past, mostly because I’ve feared that making it widely known that I’m a cynical misanthrope could impact my job security. Turns out, that’s a highly prized attribute in my industry.

So today, I’m opening up a bit to describe more of what I do between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. five days a week. There are some confidential aspects to my work, so I’ll need to be careful about revealing certain sensitive details. I think, however, I can paint a general picture of my job responsibilities without jeopardizing national security.

No, I’m not a member of Navy Seal Team Six, or any other seal team for that matter (though you might think otherwise if you heard some of the incessant honking that passes for conversation around me). I’m a financial proofreader.

Less glamorous perhaps than putting a kill shot in bin-Laden’s eye, I’d instead be the one the CIA turned to if the world’s most-feared terrorist dared to publish a poorly punctuated manifesto. I’d be firing semicolons at him so fast that what’s left of his head would be spinning.

My team consists of myself and another proofreader, four typists and a team coordinator. We spend our workday converting clients’ word-processing files onto our own system, then making editorial changes to those documents.

Actually, that’s not completely accurate. In reality, we spend probably 80% of our day cruising the Internet, clipping coupons, playing online Scrabble and complaining about how much we dislike our cushy jobs. We keep reminding ourselves that they also serve who only sit and wait. But it sure makes the day go faster when you actually have something constructive to do. Other than scoring 63 points by spelling “QUIZ” on a triple-word square, that is.

The documents we help our clients produce are the prospectuses, proxy statements and merger agreements that keep company shareholders and government regulators informed about the inner workings of the nation’s economy. Without this transparency, the capitalist system as we know it would fail to function.

What? You say that failure has already happened? Oh. Maybe I need to be playing a little less Scrabble.

The recent financial meltdown was not my fault, nor was it the fault of anybody who works for my company. We simply help our clients disseminate the documentation they release to the public, rather than offer them any advice on what to say and how to say it. If they want to tell their shareholders that throwing corporate assets down the sewer offers an “exciting opportunity for organic growth and diversification into synergistic enterprises,” my main job is to make sure they spelled “synergistic” correctly.

Fun fact: The accompanying unaudited consolidated financial statements do not include certain information and footnote disclosures required by the United States generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. The interim financial statements and notes are presented as permitted by instructions to the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q and Article 10 of Regulation S-X.

I sit at my work station, ever at the ready, until one of the typists announces that they’re printing out some pages that need to be proofread. I then take those pages and examine them closely to make sure there are no errors.

If the job is simply a “conversion” from the client’s system onto ours, all I do is a quick scan of the copy to make sure nothing is different between the two versions. When our proprietary software was more primitive, and our workforce less experienced, we’d occasionally find instances where the client wanted a Euro symbol and we’d accidentally give them an ampersand or the Greek letter epsilon or perhaps a tiny photograph of a puppy. Now, that almost never happens, so instead we scour the document to make sure all the dashes have space on either side of them. Wouldn’t want to jeopardize the upcoming merger of AT&T and T-Mobile by having inconsistent spacing around the dashes.

The other thing we do is take documents already on our system and make client-directed alterations to them. They fax in a page showing they want to insert a comma, we give that page to an operator with 25 years experience doing this stuff, they make the change and print it out, and I have the awesome responsibility to make sure the comma is there. It must be in the right spot. It must not be an italic comma or a bold comma or an underlined comma. It must be a Times Roman comma, not an Ariel one nor a Palatino one nor — God forbid — a Digi Antiqua Light Condensed comma. If the change is made correctly, I stamp the page with my employee number, record on my computer that the page is correct, then merge the page in with its related paperwork on a nearby table.

Grueling stuff.

This week, our second reader is on vacation, so I’ll be handling all the proofing responsibilities myself. I have long (and suicidally) maintained that we don’t need as many proofreaders as we have but, fortunately for my job security, those observations have fallen on deaf ears. Now, I’ll have the chance to prove my theory. I’ll need to be careful and read more slowly to be sure that I’ll fail.

By any objective measure, what I have is a pretty great job. There’s no physical exertion required. Our office is air-conditioned, there’s a coffeepot not 15 paces from where I’m sitting, and I can spend as much as seven hours a day doing as I please, as long as that involves staying in my seat in case one of those commas come along.

For the moment, I’ll have to put this blog-writing aside and prepare for action. Behind me, I hear our coordinator rustling some papers, while other pages are printing out nearby. Now, he’s approaching one of the typists and handing a document to her for processing. Soon, I’ll be called on to review her work and give it my seal of approval.

It’s as close to the heroic actions of a Navy Seal that I’ll get. But it’s a living.


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10 Responses to “Nothing glamorous, but it’s a living”

  1. thesinglecell Says:

    Brilliant! I dare you to edit something in Wingdings.

  2. Kristin Brænne Says:


  3. fakename2 Says:

    I can so relate. Last week I was editing a proposal, which is important in so far as if our proposal wins, I keep my job, and if it doesn’t, I don’t. So I called up the Corporate guy who puts it all together and said, “I have about twelve corrections”. First, all mentions of the VP for HR must be amended to say “annually” rather than “biannually”. And then on page 7, the last line, that should be a colon not a semi-colon. Page 57 Line 4 in the 3rd paragraph either needs an “and” or a comma. Line 2 in the second paragraph on page 65 needs to be re-written. It makes no sense, and has an apostrophe in the wrong place. I’m sure you get my point 🙂

  4. Paul Dixon Says:

    I decided to go with a serious question today:

    Do you print everything out in order to proof it, or do you simply view it on a computer screen?

    • davisw Says:

      I just read it on screen and run spellcheck. Hopefully, I’m not missing too much this way. I should be an old-style paper kind of guy, probably

  5. Ministry Fox Says:

    After a half-hour of correcting errors in my Elementary 1’s writing, I feel like I’m losing my own ability to speak English. Last week I found a student who managed to spell ‘I’ as ‘Iye’. Colon errors — ha! I’ be happy if they could distinguish between a comma and a full stop, and learn to put both at the bottom of the line and not in the middle of it.

  6. fakename2 Says:

    Ministry Fox, Iye (I couldn’t resist) was not making up those examples, except I did take some liberties with saying what pages they were on. These days you’re considered to be hopelessly OCD if you care (or know) about punctuation…unless your proposal, etc., will be read by someone who also cares. Then you’re screwed if you let it slide. Whole countries have probably been overthrown by the use of an inappropriate semi-colon.

  7. tychy Says:

    Take your readers to work day.

    My favourite proofreading disaster, a headline from a British newspaper following 9/11: “BLAIR APPEALS FOR CLAM.” Proofreading is indeed vital stuff.

  8. fakename2 Says:

    My kingdom for a clam!
    Speaking of newspapers and such, my sister and I are always on the lookout for “unfortunate headlines”. Recently, though, I got an email from a cooking magazine with the subject “Quick Chicken Dinners”. My thought was that the quick chickens are too lean and don’t make nearly as nice a broth as the slow ones.

  9. Ministry Fox Says:

    It’s a little rude but I like the headline: “Middle-aged Woman Goes to Prison for Sex with Boys”

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