48

Today a very high-ranking person in our company asked me to review a manual he has written. It is mostly screenshots and pictures, with only two sentences on each page. However, each sentence contains at least one significant spelling or grammatical error. There are even some (sort of) technical issues there.

How do I approach this? This document goes to our clients and affects our company's reputation.

Do I just fix these and not mention them? Should I pass the manual to someone else? Should I focus on only technical issues?

  • 1
    Perhaps add to your question how the review is to be done, e.g.: editing an MS Word document (one could enable the Track Changes functionality, or use it to compare your version against his prior version, so all your changes can always be made apparent); annotating a printout with a red pencil like an old-fashioned newspaper editor; making a list of suggested changes on a separate sheet of paper; etc. – fr13d May 5 '17 at 20:56
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    @PaulD.Waite, 30 sentences, each with at least two errors! As someone suggested he might have written it with his iPhone! – AleX_ May 5 '17 at 21:21
  • 55
    He asked you to review it. So review it. – fredsbend May 6 '17 at 2:28
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    If I was in your shoes, I would reflect on the fact that I'm a skilled copy editor and have been a professional technical editor for print publications — considering Wesley Long’s highly-upvoted comment, it might be important to add your qualification in this task. Are you a random guy with room on his schedule, or are you known as the English/writing/docs geek on the team? – JDługosz May 6 '17 at 4:33
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    @JDlugosz "If I was in your shoes, . . ." oops! Even the best of us can make mistakes! – peterG May 6 '17 at 14:38
140

I think you've answered your own question:

Today a very high-ranking person in our company asked me to review a manual he has written.

So you review it and correct the errors silently.

  • 119
    Absolutely. I'd also add that the guy probably knows he has problems in this area, recognizes how important it is, and that's why he's asking for another set of eyes on it. – Wesley Long May 5 '17 at 15:16
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    Fix any issue that you see, and when you give it back just say "I made a few small changes to correct minor typos/mistakes. No big deal, take a look." – industry7 May 5 '17 at 18:43
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    Was not sure if review meant taking notes and giving those, rather than making direct edits. – Pysis May 5 '17 at 19:01
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    Why would you correct them silently? Just mark them up in the usual fashion and return it. – Jack Aidley May 6 '17 at 9:03
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    Turn it into a win-win. Show what needs correction so that he can learn, understand his weakness. Casually mention offline and in a non threatening way that you are happy to help in future. Maintain trust and confidence by not circulating the weakness and you may, in future, get more important documents to review that assist your career. This is common in countries where English is a second or third language. – ChrisR May 8 '17 at 7:11
50

I would respond with something like 'I've reviewed the document and updated blah blah blah (the technical stuff). While reviewing I also noticed a few grammatical errors so I've gone ahead and fixed those as well.'

The key word here is 'a few'. You're downplaying his mistake and hopefully, when he opens it and sees a lot of his errors have been fixed, he will be grateful for it.

This accomplishes:

  1. Fixed the mistakes, look good to client
  2. Downplay his atrocious spelling, look good to boss

I do this often with stuff like 'I think this sentence sounds better' (even though I KNOW the sentence is better, it gives them a chance to save face) and have never had someone get mad.

  • 2
    People have different strengths. I am not a great writer ( which is why I am here partially ), so I always have someone else proof read important stuff I write to the higher ups or for customers. – Mister Positive May 5 '17 at 16:27
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    All around really great advice here. – industry7 May 5 '17 at 18:42
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    Yes, this -- especially the "a few" part. I tend to say "typos" when it's a higher-up or a special snowflake. Typos are clearly accidents, while "errors" or "mistakes" can be seen as judgements about the other person's abilities. And even if you are judging, it's not always politic to let it show. – Monica Cellio May 5 '17 at 22:01
  • I tend to say "typos" regardless of status. It seems appropriate to give the writer the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they actually know correct grammar and spelling. – Patricia Shanahan May 7 '17 at 3:01
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    @Patricia and Monica: As an editor, I would advise against that. By all means, say typos if everything you’ve fixed can reasonably be interpreted as actual typos; but if you’re fixing things that cannot possibly be typos, don’t call them typos. That makes it far too obvious that you’re being deliberately euphemistic, and it easily comes off as talking down to people. If you’re fixing things for idiomacy, word order, agreement, etc., say instead something like, “In some places, I’ve suggested an alternative phrasing that I think sounds better/makes the text flow better/…”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 7 '17 at 9:48
17

You've been asked to review it, so yes, you should absolutely point out all the errors, whether they're spelling, grammatical or technical! Not fixing it is definitely not on the table, as if it goes out to clients with those errors, you'll be asked why you didn't notice any of them.

I do realise that life isn't often ideal, and there is a worry that some managers may take offence at having loads of corrections thrown at their work. If you feel this is the case, then I'd just shoot an email along the lines of:

Hi x,

I've been reviewing the manual you sent and noticed a few spelling errors, would you like me to correct those as well as making comments on any technical issues?

You can then progress knowing that you've been told to look out for these issues as well.

  • 2
    Thanks, This sounds like a good answer, I'm afraid he takes it personally or maybe I'm too paranoid. I'm gonna wait for a couple of more answers. – AleX_ May 5 '17 at 15:13
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    There is a decent chance that you have a manager who knows that his spelling is atrocious, and that he asks for corrections for exactly that reason. Or that he created the document on an iPhone :-( – gnasher729 May 5 '17 at 15:15
  • Typos is often a better term than "spelling errors", as typos are more of an accidental, pressed-buttons-in-the-wrong-order sort of thign. – wizzwizz4 May 6 '17 at 19:10
11

How do I approach this? This document goes to our clients and affects our company's reputation.

Do I just fix these and not mention them? Should I pass the manual to someone else? Should I focus on only technical issues?

You were asked to review it. So review it.

First, go to the author and ask how you should convey the results of your review. That might include a pencil markup of the document, and in-line markup of the doc file, or something else.

Then review everything. Mark up spelling and grammar errors as well as technical problems and omissions.

Do the job you are being asked to do. No need to be shy about it - just comment on the document not the author.

If you do this respectfully, most likely you'll just get a big "Thank You". Not everyone is good at writing, but nobody wants to look foolish to the clients. I've been there and done this many times.

  • 2
    People also noticed a lot. When I was a fresh job acquisition in a job of mine, one of the first comments I heard was "You write so much better our tongue and English than..." – Rui F Ribeiro May 6 '17 at 13:45
9

By the way, call them typos, rather than errors. :-)

Update: I'll expand, as requested. It is as wizzwizz4 commented: the word 'error' has the connotation (because of some of its meanings, or its usage, I guess) of incapacity, ignorance, deficiency, etc.; while 'typo' does not: its connotation is of 'a mere distraction'. So calling spelling errors typos instead of errors risks offending the other person less.

  • 7
    without an explanation, this answer may become useless in case if someone else posts an opposite opinion. For example, if someone posts a claim like "By the way, don't call them typos, stick with term errors. :-)", how would this answer help reader to pick of two opposing opinions? Consider editing it into a better shape, to meet How to Answer guidelines – gnat May 6 '17 at 8:05
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    How do you know they're typos? – Lightness Races in Orbit May 6 '17 at 14:11
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    I'll provide a bit of explanation in the comments, but the answer should be edited to include a full explanation when @PabloH is next active. "Typos" might be a better term because it doesn't have the "you messed up" connotations of "errors", instaed creating the improessing that anybod ycould make them, no matter how competatn. (All typos accidental but left intentionally.) – wizzwizz4 May 6 '17 at 19:21
  • @BoundaryImposition You do not know if they are typos; it is just a courtesy. – Pablo H May 8 '17 at 21:36
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    @gnat Thanks for giving reasons! By the way, I was just adding a little bit to the other (better) answers. – Pablo H May 8 '17 at 21:39
4

Turn potential problem into productive solution. Provide your boss (I will call that person 'boss' for simplicity) with reviewed document and make no further comments except of note that all revisions are visible in second attached document.

In other words, you can simply perform the review and send the document in two versions:

  • A: final version (ready-to-present)
  • B: version with visible revisions (tracking the changes you made during review)

Your boss can instantly use and send version A, and if he/she is interested, can have a look into version B what exactly you have done. Actual revisions will speak instead of you. Fixes of simple typos can be instantly distinguished from changes of greater range. Please see the below example created in Microsoft Word. (Also other office app suites may have similar change-tracking functionality.) Yellow highlight shows related settings you need to use.

enter image description here

Steps: You turn on revision tracking, perform your revisions and save the document (it will be version B). Then you accept all the revisions and save the document again (now with different name, as version A).

Note:
As you already see, the only version needed is B, but we typically do not expect our management to know/do any advanced document operations so we reconcile revisions for them, therefore we also send them the ready-to-go version A. Also put clear distinction between file names of A and B to prevent your boss from accidentally sending out wrong version (e.g. A:Proposal CX2017-2.docx vs. B: Visible Revisions of Proposal CX2017-2.docx).

There are numerous advantages of this approach:

  • your boss can easily review your changes made in his/her work
  • your boss can easily distinguish substantial changes from typo corrections
  • your boss can instantly see density of their typos (including corrected words = opportunity to learn their proper form)
  • amount of work you needed to put into the review is clearly visible
  • revisions spoke about typos instead of you: you do not need to address it personally what could be potentially embarrassing for your boss
  • you demonstrate knowledge of technology and creative and effective approach to daily tasks (wasn't it on your CV?)
3

I largely agree with the existing answers: fix all the errors and bring it back. I have a few differences of opinion and caveats to add, however.

  1. I wouldn't bother with flattery. It's disrespectful. You don't have to say "like, OMG, your grammar is soooo awful!", but I wouldn't deliberately understate the problem either. Just say "All the grammar and spelling errors are marked with green unless I wasn't sure what you meant. In those cases, I marked them red along with any technical errors that need additional review."

  2. As my sample statement mentions, I would mark simple errors notably differently than complex errors.

    • If it's clear what the guy meant, fix it, but mark it with fairly innocuous marking commensurate with its importance. For example, a green pen (for hard-copy corrections) or font color (for digital copies).
    • If his sentence is so bad you're not even sure where he was going with it, mark it in something high-profile so he knows to read it carefully in case you screwed up your correction. Like a red pen or font color.
    • Likewise, if there's a technical problem, mark it as high-profile so he can either say "Oh, right, that's what I meant", or "No, no, no! I was referencing this totally other thing!", at which point you might re-write the entire thing to make it clear that's what the section references. You might just use the same color as above, or you could use a different, but still high-profile, color for each. For example, red for "I'm not sure what you meant" and orange for "I think you're just wrong here".
  3. For any non-trivial corrections, I'd write a paragraph or two on why you think your correction is better. For large projects, you can include this directly as a comment on something like Microsoft Word's "track changes" feature so future reviewers don't have to find you to ask about all of them. For small projects, you might just print them separately, with each blurb having a page number or something to identify it, then you can just reference it while you explain it over the phone or in person.

  4. If it's a long manual, I'd make sure to get a proper digital copy. Then you can make the edits directly and send back a ready-to-print copy. If it's just a short manual, you can make the edits directly to a printed copy and let him manually input the edits himself. That said, if his writing is as bad as you say, it might be better not to trust him; in this case, get a digital copy regardless of length. Besides, he'll appreciate you taking the workload off of him even if he's capable.

  5. If you're editing the digital copy directly, I'd make two versions: one version with all the pretty colors so he can easily review the changes (instead of making him play spot-the-difference on the entire manual), then a second version with the normal font colors so if he likes it, he can just publish it directly. The exception is if you're using software to track, reject, and accept changes; generally, such software allows you to just directly print everything without the markup.

  6. For digital edits, don't use obnoxious font colors. This isn't specific to fixing errors, but it's a common, annoying mistake people make. You can make a high-visibility color while still being pleasant to look at. Bad colors are anything with full saturation like bright red, yellow, or magenta. Instead, use somewhat desaturated, greyer colors.

    Additionally, bright colors on white paper or a white monitor have poor contrast. Yellow, cyan, and magenta are the worst pure colors since they're combinations of two primary colors each, but red, green, and blue are still annoying. Instead, use colors that are a bit darker so they contrast better with white, while still being bright enough to contrast with standard black text.

    Image of text with better and worse correction coloring.

    This is specific to Microsoft Word, but most applications have similar color pickers:

    Annotated diagram showing how to use a standard color picker to achieve better colors.

  7. Since you'll be making substantial edits to numerous parts of the manual, I'd make sure at least one other party reviews your review. It's easy to make your own mistakes in the middle of correcting his.

  8. For any technical corrections, I'd ask other, qualified co-workers to review them to make sure you did it correctly. Even if you're the expert, it's best to have multiple eyes on the subject so your end users aren't following the wrong directions.

1

Adding to the other already excellent answers - do review it.

However, in this day and age, there are no excuses for certain errors, when there is software to automatically correct that; whilst often grammatical errors are certainly bound to happen, spelling errors can be auto-corrected quite easily.

For instance Mac computers bring by default gramatical and spelling checkers that can be activated system wide, and work in all programs that you are running, and Windows computers, lacking grammar/spelling checkers outside word, have many commercial offerings about equivalent software.

Given the situation, besides correcting the document, I would advise making a recommendation/selecting an appropriate software product and asking/arranging discreetly to install it on the computer of that very high ranking person.

Working with several languages is also not an excuse to not install such software; I write all day long in at least two different tongues, and more rarely in two other more, and for half a decade now my dictionaries/spelling/grammar checkers auto-detect the tongue after two or three words, and react accordingly.

  • @JoeStrazzere .... Typo, missing a not...I am not suggesting to do it without asking him; just without making it known to too many people. (otherwise the phrase construct would not make much sense) – Rui F Ribeiro May 6 '17 at 12:54
  • I actually fairly strongly disagree with "there are no excuses for certain errors, when there is software to automatically correct that;" - I have found that people who lean on autocorrect end up with worse errors (often changing a typo into a completely incorrect word). – cale_b May 7 '17 at 22:37

protected by Jane S May 7 '17 at 11:41

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