We, like many people I know who frequent sites like Amazon, ESPN, and even my newest favorite, BackyardChickens.com, have recently been overrun with banner ads for a new 'proofreading' service. It seems a group of Internet enthusiasts convinced some California venture capitalists to come up with $5 million and started what they hope is a competitor to ProofreadNOW.com. Replete with content-free buzzwords ("the 'secret sauce' is in how we process documents"), this service offers cheap proofreading in a blistering 24 hours.
What this service claims is speed and accuracy. Send them a 10-page document, or a 50-page document, or a 100-page document, and they'll get any of them done in the same amount of time: 24 hours. How? Their so-called secret sauce is to split the document up, distribute the pieces to any number of 'editors' they've found 'in the cloud,' and have them find the mistakes in their smaller portions. Then those cloud people send their pieces back to ground-control where they're reassembled, and the final document is returned to the customer.
Well, if hit records could ever be composed by multiple writers in the cloud, all I can say is Ground Control to Major Houston, We've Got a Problem, Return to Sender ... NOW!
We wanted to see how this new service performs, so we created an account, entered our credit card, and sent in a four-page document. Being careful testers, we had already loaded our document with errors - subtle ones and obvious ones. For example, we had a proper name (Liesman) in the document several times, as Liesman and as Leisman. We added our classic double mistake: "The investigators honed in on there target." (See what I mean about subtle and not-so-subtle?) We injected a mix of state abbreviations using standard and postal forms. And we had the same word in American form (minimize) and British form (minimise) here and there. There were also many other subtleties that one would expect to be caught, such as irregular spacing, leading spaces before paragraphs, and a sprinkling of split infinitives.
There certainly was nothing magical about the document we got back. I’m afraid the secret sauce turned out to be plain stewed tomatoes and a pat of oleo.
In our four-page document, we found tracked edits by four different editors. Some of the comments led us to believe that the editors were in a cloud…over India. (Note: There are plenty of Indian English editors with excellent editing skills. English, after all, is one of the official languages of India. It did appear as though our Indian editors were not native English speakers, though.) Liesman/Leisman was not fixed. Many sentences were left with two spaces following, whereas most had just one. And the Britishisms, some of which were marked by comment, were not reconciled, leaving the different spellings within two paragraphs of each other. Subtleties such as “honed in on” were not touched. We had “LongTerm Capital Growth” and similar headings throughout the document. The first page had no changes made there. The second page had each of the four occurrences of “LongTerm” split with an inserted space. The editors were clearly not on the same page, so to speak.
Moral of the story: Just as nine women cannot produce a baby in one month, neither can four editors do properly in one hour what one good editor should do in several hours. Consistency in editing is important. Quality is paramount. That’s why we have two outstanding, thoroughly tested editors on every job, one working after the other, to find all the mistakes, inconsistencies, style issues, and differing formats. And that’s why our customers keep coming back every day.