In this digital day and age, where speed is often the most valuable asset, it’s important to ask yourself, “When was the last time I actually stopped to proofread my work?” Even Santa makes a list and checks it twice. Proofreading can be the difference between effective communication and misinterpretation all together.
I’ve gathered my own set of tips from reading a few different sources that have helped make me the “go-to” person for proofreading in the office. Hopefully these can help you, too.
- Spell check. This may seem like common sense if you’re working on a Word document, but sometimes we forget to use it. However, don’t entirely rely on it.
- Walk away. After you are done with a writing project, move on to something else and return to it later. With fresh eyes, you will probably catch things you didn’t the first time.
- Ink is your friend. I find that when I print out the piece in question and read it on paper, I proofread much better than on a computer screen. I also use a colored pen to mark it up to help me see the edits better.
- Shield yourself. Use a blank piece of paper to keep yourself from jumping ahead to the next line so you don’t read too far ahead.
- Read aloud. Just not too loud – there are other people working here!
- Back and forth. Read the piece once for spelling, once for grammar and another time for content. This way, you can concentrate on each round of edits, rather than jumping around. When you’re done, read the piece backwards. You may catch things you wouldn’t have all the other times.
- Fact check. Don’t assume you got it right the first time. Is November 12 really a Saturday, or is it a Sunday? Does the event start at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m.? Did you spell that name right?
- Friends are your friend. Ask a colleague that isn’t closely related to the work to read it. They will usually catch things you missed. If they have trouble comprehending the piece overall, you’ve got some revising to do.
- Sure, it’s right. Well, it might not be, so check it again. Things that don’t change often (like a boilerplate) should be checked always.
- Big and shiny. Proof the body first, followed by the headlines and any text in a smaller font, which generally gets glossed over.
Here are a few thoughts when it comes to content editing, too:
- RSVP. When putting together a media advisory or event invitation, ask who, what, when, where and why. Do you have all the information people need to attend? Missing details would obviously cause a big problem.
- Steps 1-4. If your piece says there are four steps to a process, make sure they’re all there, in order and in the same format.
- Snozberry. Avoid jargon. Make sure your product terminology makes sense in layman’s terms.
- Numbers. Check illustrations, figures and page numbers, and make sure they all are accurate and match up.
- 2+2=? Speaking of numbers, make sure your math (if any) adds up.
“So, what did you think?” After proofreading for someone, I personally find that I am often so engrained in checking for errors that I don’t look at the big picture. While you should edit the work for the content, as I mentioned before, don’t feel obligated to express an opinion on the overall piece. Still, if you have a perspective that can help, feel free to share.
Hopefully you didn’t find errors here (except for the intended one in the title), and if you did blame it on my “friends” who proofread it for me. Feel free to print out these tips and check them off as you go the next time you’re editing.
Now, what’s your favorite tip for proofreading? Is there something that trips you up most often?