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As a primarily web-based programmer, a lot of my projects involve significant amounts of text content.

In my previous job, I frequently worked with a project manager notorious for his unwillingness to proof-read, or to even use basic spell-check software. I regularly corrected the text content he provided for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as I felt that the website represented both the company and myself, and I was not willing to let his laziness contribute to a negative user experience. However, text content was limited, and was almost exclusively legal disclaimers and technical instructions related to the product.

At my current job, we have a much larger emphasis on text content. However, we also have a much higher standard of quality and proof-reading. All printed content from our department uses the AP Stylebook standards, and I believe that standard should be extended to our web-based content as well.

I fully expect that my previous problems with low-quality text content, and lack of basic proofreading, will not be repeated here. However, I have gotten into the habit of proofreading every bit of text content I publish.

I am considering studying the AP Stylebook to make sure that I know what the expected conventions are.

Is this going beyond my responsibility as a programmer? Should I be sticking to only the most basic of errors (e.g. spelling, punctuation, etc.) instead of trying to expand to AP Stylebook conventions? Or should I just leave all proofreading tasks to the people who give me the content to publish?

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You will have to do it anyway sooner or latter. –  Aditya P Mar 31 '11 at 15:55
    
@Aditya What do you mean by that? I'll have to learn the AP Stylebook sooner or later, or I'll have to make the corrections to the content, regardless of whether I find it or someone else does? –  Beofett Mar 31 '11 at 16:23
    
The corrections mostly :) the book comes later on. –  Aditya P Mar 31 '11 at 16:26

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As a programmer:

  • Give it a basic proof-read. Fix obvious problems. A developer who lets obvious typos through looks like an idiot.
  • If you know your stuff (which it sounds like you do), fix basic grammar issues or style issues (1980's -> 1980s)
  • If there are larger problems (sentence rewrites needed), take it back to the content producer. Be polite and maybe just ask for clarification on its meaning because you are a bit confused. Don't fix these yourself as you may be stepping on toes.
  • If you find yourself wanting to study the AP Stylebook, you may be in the wrong career. =)
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Heh I'm not sure I'd say I "want" to study it... let's just say I think it might be a good idea. I already know I'll need it for more than just the actual web content, since I'm also acting as the project manager, and I need to follow the conventions for some of my project documentation (I first found out about the AP Stylebook during the review of my draft Project Charter). –  Beofett Mar 31 '11 at 16:41

It's not usually the programmer's responsibility to proof-read content unless the programmer is also the content-creator. Of course, if you should happen to notice obvious spelling/grammar errors, it's polite to let the content-creator know first, before opening a defect over it.

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+1 for it being up to whoever created the text-content to spellcheck it. –  Rachel Mar 31 '11 at 15:38

"Is this going beyond my responsibility as a programmer?"

Beofett. It is your responsibility as an employee (be it a programmer or anyone else for that matter) to ensure that any documentation that is produced by YOU is up to a decent standard. If your going out of your way to help someone, then it should at least be recongnised and corrected in some way.

In the example you gave about your project manager not proof-reading his documentation, he probably noticed you doing this for him and took it for granted that you would continue to do this. In some cases, kindness is often mistaken for weakness.

It's good that you care about the quality of the work produced at your workplace, and your going the extra mile to help your employees, but don't burn yourself out over it. Either speak to him directly or to his boss. Be as diplomatic as possible. I've seen many people like you that have problems that are more or less self-imposed, you just need to communicate with the people in your work a bit more. If you bottle it up, you'll get stressed, unhappy with work and eventually burn out badly.

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This sounds a little like "it's not my job" –  NickC Mar 31 '11 at 16:35
    
While he pulled the whole "let's see what I can get away with making the programmer do" card repeatedly, he actually sent the same type of blatant errors in every single document he ever wrote, including ones to customers. And you're 100% right about the burn-out factor... that's why I left that job and started this new one! –  Beofett Mar 31 '11 at 16:43
    
@Renesis - Wrong, I very often go beyond what is expected of me. I've worked late nights, weekends and holidays, so I'd hardly say that wiki reflects me. Everybody needs to pitch in outside of their job description, but as long as it's a collaborative effort and at least recognised, the fact his project manager doesn't recognise that Beofett is going out of his way to help the company and, in this case, the project manager as well shows their hes not intereted in understanding. I guess you could say his attitude is to do the minimum possible. –  Desolate Planet Mar 31 '11 at 16:59
    
@Beofett, going out of your way to help employees is a good thing. As I said, it shows you care. But if what your doing is going unrecognised and your being taken for granted, you need to either speak to him directly or the manager. I've deleted my text on the email as that might be a little too strong and in your case, it's an individual, but if it's everyone, then a well place email would wake them up. –  Desolate Planet Mar 31 '11 at 17:01
    
@Desolate Planet Been there, done that, got the t-shirt :) I agree with you 100%, right down to the best way to handle it. It's all history now, though, since I've moved on from that job, and no longer have to deal with that individual. –  Beofett Mar 31 '11 at 17:04

It may very well be going beyond your responsibility as a programmer, but it is an interesting set of additional skills to take on to make you more useful in your role.

If you follow up corrections with appropriate notifications so your employers are aware you're also trying to consider the best for the company it could be very useful for you come promotion or review time. :)

Though I would consider how much you want to be known for taking on this particular task, being known as someone who goes above and beyond for the good of the organisation is no bad thing at all.

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Dont go out of your way to make sure the content is correct, whether it be grammar, spelling, business lingo, etc. unless you are specifically instructed to by your higher-ups.

That being said, if you do notice something, it doesn't hurt to run if by your supervisor, and let them deal with the rest.

Then again, it all depends on where you work, etc..

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I got into the habit simply because the project manager at my last job was so bad, it was just too embarrassing to publish the misspellings, poor punctuation, and sentence fragments on a professional website. For the record, I did mention it to my various supervisors over the years, and none of them ever said anything about it beyond "do your best to make it look good". –  Beofett Mar 31 '11 at 15:44

You are not, I assume, talking about strings in code. You are, I again assume, talking about actual content not in the source code.

If my assumptions are correct then I don't think you should be messing around with content. Some of the 'mistakes' might be there on purpose.

If there is an editor or group of people responsible for the content then you would be overstepping your bounds. Imagine a content editor looking over your source and "correcting" variable names.

Plus all this time spent proofreading is not spent coding. Is that what your are being paid for?

Sure, obvious things you happen to notice go ahead and point out to your boss. Beyond that I would say be very careful depending on the company environment.

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I would think long and hard before changing so much as a space in a legal disclaimer. And if content is not your responsibility, then I would get some sort of sign-off before changing anything other than egregious misspellings, improper capitalization and such. But I would certainly bring any customer-facing solecisms to someone's attention before allowing them out the door.

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