Proofreaders don’t get enough credit – and a lot of people don’t spend enough time proofreading their own work. Proofreading is about more than just making sure to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. I’ve put together a list of helpful proofreading tips to make sure that your documents come out as close to perfect as possible – every time.
Keep your spell checking software, but don’t get too comfortable. Spell check is a beautiful thing, and a lot of times it can save people’s you-know-whats, especially if they don’t have a lot of time to proof their work. However, spell checking isn’t magic, it’s not always correct, and it won’t pick up on words that are misused. How many times have you typed “Through you may think…” or “You schedules are attached…”, or something similar, only to have your spell check fail you?
Print it out. You can’t read properly on a screen. Your mind will make little leaps in logic, automatically filling in missed or misused words. Working from a hard copy makes a proofreader’s job easier. Feel free to get out a pen and just go to town if you feel like it.
Read it out loud. That’s right, you may look a little crazy if you happen to do this in a public place. Reading it out loud (or at least whispering to yourself) will force you to slow your pace and get into the rhythm of the language – and that, in turn, will illuminate any mistakes. If you stumble as you read to yourself, that’s a good indication that you should work on the syntax of that line.
Get a fresh pair of eyes. There’s no room to be shy – having a friend or colleague look it over and give you feedback is a valuable source of information. Friends can normally pick up on inconsistencies that you may overlook.
Double check things you don’t think need to be double checked. This includes very fine print and standard forms like addresses, boilerplate introductions, dates, contact information, and even company letterhead. It’s easy to gloss over these items because they’re often used – but a good proofreader knows that sometimes mistakes happen in the strangest of places. A misspelled name on company letterhead is embarrassing, and an incorrect phone number won’t land any sales.
Pay attention to the extras. This means charts, graphs, pictures, titles, page numbers, and even numbered lists. Make sure the numbered bullets are sequential, that you haven’t gone from A. to C. in your outline, and that all of the graphics are right side up and properly labeled.
Proof proper names and headlines or titles separately. It’s easy to make mistakes in headings because proofers are usually so focused on the body of the copy, so go back and proof these in a new round. Proper names go in this category too because it can be easy to skip over the spelling. I’ve seen “Michelle” turned into “Michael” or “Mitchell” too many times – and believe me, it doesn’t make your audience think very generous things about your intelligence.
Clear your mind. Having a hard time focusing? Editing and proofreading require a keen eye and major amounts of concentration, but it’s also a pretty monotonous job. If you can, refresh yourself by putting a little distance between you and whatever you’re proofreading. Read something else, or try sleeping on what you just wrote before proofing.
Do you have any tips that you find useful when proofreading your work? Let us know!
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