I am going to try to go through this without sounding like a nagging mother or grade school teacher but this is very important to what we do. It is critical. Our job needs to be done right.
I refer to our human flaws of carelessness and hubris. Maybe we are so excited about one aspect that we forget the details or the job just gets too redundant that we just overlook the details but whatever the reason, we must strive to do better.
I write this after noticing a misspelling on the Houston Bar Association’s publication flyer for their “Campus Crises” 28th Annual Law & the Media Seminar. On the second page of the right side midway down excellence is misspelled. The second “e” is missing. What kind of statement does that make about the HBA? Its implications include embarrassing carelessness or simple ignorance.
As a college professor I have two separate systems of grading for the work that my students turn in. For in class assignments such as exam essays I am for the most part (except for some egregious error) very tolerant and lenient in my grading. I am more tolerant of slight inaccuracies, misspellings, punctuation errors, poor sentence structure and even lousy handwriting. This is because of the nature of the environment that they must produce the work. They are limited to themselves, a uncomfortable chair, their writing instrument and the stress of the grade. In the classroom exam they have no access to their class notes, internet, library, spellcheck, dictionary, peer review, media or outside communication. When I give students weeks or months to complete an assignment where they have access to these things with weeks of time to complete a project the excuse for the above listed transgressions evaporates and I have mercilessly penalized students docking off whole letter grades (10 points) for these infractions. They indicate stupidity or carelessness. Why should we take either seriously?
If we send out letters petitioning for someone rights (be in an attempt to commute a death sentence or free a prisoner of conscience) that has even a single misspelled word on it, what does that say about us? It makes us look like unprofessional careless fools that should be laughed at or at the very least not be taken seriously. Worse than that is the conclusion that could be drawn about your boss or organization that you work for. Could you imagine your boss being asked “What kind of fools do you have working here?” If you are an appellant lawyer attempting to save the life of your client you want your clemency petition to be the most professional and error free document that the parole board has ever seen. For this lawyer, the client’s life may depend on his lawyer’s careful attention to detail getting the research done correctly, facts reported accurately and presented flawlessly.
If a patrol officer turns in an incident report replete with misspelled words, would you also begin to wonder if they are equally careless about their firearms training as well?
If a physician misspelled the name of the medication that you were supposed to take prior to surgery the following day, would you wonder about how careful he really in is in the operating room?
If an investment banker presented you with propositions that were replete with misspellings, are you certain that you would trust them with your money?
If you sat down at a restaurant and saw misspelled words on the menu, what might you speculate about their carefulness and attention to detail in food preparation?
These are just a slight survey of why it’s very important to make sure that the work we do is accurate and done correctly. We want to put forward the best possible professional image so that our work has the greatest possible effect. We have to make sure that we get our stuff done correctly not only for our own image but also those that depend on us. Amnesty International is supposed to be the voice for the indigent, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the suffering, the hopeless, the disabled, and those who would otherwise not have a voice. Let us make that voice be the most professional, correct and accurate voice that it can be.
Charles Lee Baird