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Fifteen years and another lifetime ago, I enrolled in seminary, reasonably certain that I was going to spend my life in church ministry. One of my first classes was “Introduction to Theology,” taught by an established figurehead of the seminary. Professor Arnold used to joke, “God and I are tight. You fall asleep in my class, and I’ll zap you!” After the initial readings, our first assignment was to sketch out our “confessions,” statements of personal beliefs. I worked hard on this assignment, carefully outlining my beliefs, and I was satisfied with the product.
I received the paper back two days later.
The word ‘HERESY’ was written in large, red letters at the top.
The explanatory note underneath explained that I wasn’t in danger of being burned at the stake. In fact, the sin I had committed was carelessness. I had used my words loosely. That’s it.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Words matter. From that assignment forward, I learned to examine each word carefully. The best time to do this, I found, is in the proofreading phase. My habit is to get my thoughts onto the screen, then go find something else to do for awhile. When I return to my words, I can see how a certain word doesn’t fit quite right, or how a phrase could be improved by transforming a boring word into an exciting one.
As a proofreader at ProofreadingPal, I see a lot of otherwise well-written documents with some gaping flaws caused by carelessness. I understand. And I like to make suggestions in addition to corrections – changing a word may fix a document, but changing a way to think about how to write is rewarding.
I’ve been called a heretic since that day, to be sure. But never because of careless, unexamined writing.