Let 'em look like idiots? Or be professional?

I work as a web developer, and part of that job is dumping in the content that clients supply for their site. I’m not particularly happy with my job, but I try to do it well.

More often than would seem likely, if it didn’t keep happening, clients give content that contains whopping errors. Usually they’re grammar and spelling problems, which I fix because they bug me, but sometimes the errors are just stupid. Just now, I copied and pasted the fact that a business delivers “to the 50 contiguous United States only.” Lawdy!

So if you were me, and intensely bored by the process, would you let clients show their stupidity, or fix the problem for them? The PR Degree half of me says fix it, the evil petty-revenge-for-my-boredom says let the public beware!

If they aren’t paying you to fix it, don’t fix it. Proofreaders are professionals, too.

Be professional. Correct the mistakes and make extra sure you didn’t make any yourself. Then provide a summary of the errors you found and the steps you took to fix them, and ask them to verify the results are what they expected.

Of course you should fix it. People who do things right go places.

Like Johnny L.A. said, sure, correct them. And document that you did.

After you complete the work, show them the changes you made. Let them know that you wanted to do your “best work”, and that includes a little bit of polishing. Perhaps they will give you a good reference in the future, as a conscientious worker.

In essence, build the bridge, don’t burn it. You’re going to be able to use it in a portfolio, and you want it to look as good as possible.

That’s just my immediate opinion, I admit I don’t know diddly about the web design business.

My wife worked for a print shop before she had our daughter. They specifically charged if they did the proofreading. Otherwise they’d just fax copies to the customers to be OKed.

One of their customers was an Ethiopian restaurant. They sent a deliver guy over with menus to be printed. Noticing several typos and/or phrases they didn’t understand, they called the restaurant manager. He said to show it to the delivery guy and have him sign off on it. So they did.

When the final product was delivered, the customer was pissed. My wife showed him the sign-off by delivery guy. He complained that delivery guy doesn’t read English well. Tough luck for him, since he was the one who told my wife to have delivery guy proofread.

Sadly, many English-as-a-first-language customers were just as bad at spelling and grammar.

as a former secretary (10+ years), i invariably corrected grammar and spelling mistakes in copy i worked with. granted, that is pretty much expected when you’re in that line of work, but it certainly gave me a nice big warm-fuzzy when i’d get comments like, “Make whatever changes you think are needed–it always sounds better when you do.”

now, as a computer programmer, i have to make the leaps-of-logic that the users don’t understand or that just never occur to them when dealing with data. my own professional pride gets wrapped up in that one; i would cringe if my name were publicly associated with something that looked so shoddy or screwed up royally when it was supposed to perform.

i vote with the “make corrections but document to hell and back” group.

This subject has already been covered well, and I don’t have anything to add to it.

I will instead relate an anecdote that happened at my employer just in the past two weeks.

One of the letters that my company sends out had some wording changed. The programmer redesigning the forms containing the wording added a comma in a place where one did not previously exist.

The users (billing folks) told her to take it out.

She retorted, “But that’s improper grammar.”

Users said, “We don’t care. Take it out. That is not the copy that was approved by our legal department.”

She took it out.

Give them what they wrote, not what’s going to look good in your portfolio.

Authors hate editor, but have to live with them.
Paying customers hate editors and don’t.

People fall in love with their words, especially if they are slow writers and have to struggle to get anything out at all.

However, there is a small window when it’s OK.
That’s between nearly done and tentative approval.
Not at the first draft, and not after he’s basically done with it.

At that point, you can say “My co-worker (if you don’t have one, make one up) saw the draft and circled these items, what do you think?”
You don’t have an opinion, you’re asking for him to be the decision maker. But then you’d better live with his decision if you ever want him to call again.

Thanks for the responses, guys. Generally I fix the errors I come across, but aside from making wisecracks to my coworkers, I hadn’t thought to document any changes. I’ll be sure to do that from now on.


Begin charging by the hour. If you already are: proof it. They’re paying you to produce a quality product, it is in your best interest to make sure that product is of the highest quality you can give them. But stupidity is soooo tempting to exploit…

I have a lot of experience with this sort of thing as well (hell, it’s what I do, at least until I start my new position next month), and my advice: Call them. Say something along the lines of, “I noticed in the 4th graf, 3rd line, you said such-and-such, and I wasn’t sure if you were aware of . . .” or " . . .it might sound a little tighter if . . ."

Nine out of ten clients really appreciate this sort of thing, and it helps build really good professional relationships by letting them know that their vendors pay attention down to the last detail and make useful suggestions.

If they say not to change it, hey, no skin off your nose. If they take your suggestion, it has helped them and made you and the company look a little better.

My sister is a website designer. I always end up proofreading/editing the sites she does because she asks me for my opinion (a 2nd set of eyes never hurts), and I can’t stand seeing websites with poor grammar and spelling errors. Frankly, I think it’s a reflection as much on the designer as the site owner, and if I were the designer, I wouldn’t want my name on anything that had stupid mistakes in it.

I would say, ask them before you fix something, because eventually you’re going to run into something that looks like a typo to you, but that’s the way they like it (uh-huh, uh-huh…)

Like an Ethiopian menu.

P.S. Some people you just CANNOT convince that “irregardless” or “between you and I” is incorrect, especially if it’s the boss’s wife who wrote it. When I run across a website that has egregious spelling and/or grammar errors, my first thought is not, “That stupid web developer!” My first thought is, “That stupid website owner!” The buck stops there.

For a while I ran a typing service doing mostly papers for students at a local college. When I picked up their work I asked them straight out, “Would you like me to correct any minor typos or punctuation errors I come across? Or do you want it typed EXACTLY as written even if there is something not quite right?” Most people were glad to have someone fix little errors, and it made it possible for me to do the work without the pain of typing things I knew were wrong. A few wanted it left as is no matter what, which I respected with no problem (just gritted my teeth as I typed “between you and I”). Don’t know if this is a practical possibility for you, but it was a good method of addressing the issue for me.

I lost my job as a typesetter for a newspaper years ago because I couldn’t let mangled and mutilated piles of words go into print without at least trying to help them, anymore than I could walk past a bleeding man on the sidewalk. It was a small local paper, owned by two people (man and wife) who did all the writing themselves. The woman had a big ego thing about no one daring to touch her articles, which was unfortunate since her writing bore only the most casual resemblance to real English, and had never come within shouting distance of a spelling/grammar/usage manual. I tried, I really did. I set type for sentences with no verbs, possessives with no apostrophes, incorrect verb tenses, and long, long sentences that simply made no sense. One night (it was an 11 PM to 4 AM thing) I lost my head and just couldn’t do it anymore. I… I… (hanging head in shame) changed a few words in a particular article, outstandingly horrible even for her, whose sheer incomprehensiveness and linguistic ugliness would have outraged the person who was its subject. It was still an awful article (as I resisted the urge to fix it RIGHT), but at least I made every sentence have a subject and a verb - I mean, it was a city newspaper after all, not the annual Christmas newsletter to forgiving family members. I was told the next day that the crazy woman had gone through the roof and my services were no longer required. I tried, I really tried… Sigh… :frowning: But I guess it was like an animal lover trying to work in a cosmetics testing lab; it could never have worked out anyway. Too bad, as I liked the work itself, and could have loved it if I’d been allowed to do a good job.

HA HA HA! This is quite close to what I’m up against, in many cases. Now that I’ve been able to distance myself a little from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that prompted my OP, I agree that the right thing to do is fix the errors, and document my changes. I also like the idea of contacting the clients directly about any changes I make, as well as going through my 22-year-old, incompetent “supervisor.”

Great input, all. I hope to have a new job by fall, and I’ll need my portfolio to reflect what I can do. Thanks for reminding me of that.