Proofreading might appear simple, but catching the totality of an author’s errors is harder than it seems.
That’s why I’ve written this article. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a marketer, a would-be proofreader or a student – my top eight proofreading tips will help you brush up on your editing skills.
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that I use these techniques when doing ‘regular’ proofreading rather than traditional proofreading. Not sure what the difference is? Check out my Ultimate Guide to Proofreading here.
- Read slowly
- Print it off
- Increase font size
- Don’t proofread when tired
- Read it aloud
- Check proper nouns
- Use a screen reader
- Proofread three times
1. Read slowly
The best piece of advice I can give is to proofread slowly. Proofreading is an exercise in meticulousness – if you try and blaze through the document as fast as you can, you’ll inevitably miss things.
My preferred method is to say, “Okay, I need to get through at least three pages today.” I’ll then sit down and proofread those pages until they’re completed; I find that this helps me avoid the pressure of time constraints.
You should also make sure you’re not simply ‘reading’, by which I mean absorbing the author’s intended meaning and moving on. You need to read mindfully, which means tackling each sentence as its own entity. It’s very easy to fall into the rhythm of reading naturally, but you run the risk of having your brain ‘auto-complete’ sentences – you expect to see punctuation and words in certain places, so you fill in the gaps and only end up spotting things that are blatantly obvious, like missing apostrophes.
2. Print it off
I don’t know the science behind why documents are easier to edit on paper, but, personally, I find it easier to locate mistakes on hard copies. While this isn’t always practical (time constraints, the painful process of integrating those edits into a digital copy), I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.
3. Increase font size
It goes without saying that playing around with formatting isn’t an option if you’re editing typeset proofs. If you’re reading this, though, you’re probably interested in business proofreading – which almost always occurs digitally. This means you’ve got the option to adjust margin width, font size and line spacing, all of which can make the document in question easier to proofread.
4. Don’t proofread when tired
Proofreading requires laser focus. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s accurate. If you’re tired, you will miss things. It’s not your fault – it’s completely normal. So, unless there’s a deadline looming, I’d recommend editing once you’ve had a good sleep and a cup of coffee. Trying to proofread something when you’re exhausted just means it’ll need to be redone properly, which costs your client/boss more money.
5. Read aloud
Reading the document aloud is one of the easiest ways to pick up spelling errors and missing words. By focusing on saying each sentence, you’ll not only be forced to read more slowly, but you’ll also (generally) notice missing words and incorrect spelling that you might otherwise have missed. It’s also a technique that works well for copy editing.
6. Check proper nouns
It doesn’t matter if you’ve done the hard yards and familiarised yourself with all the grammatical rules and stylistic idiosyncrasies out there – a word that you’ve never seen before can still trip you up.
Proper nouns (place names, people’s names, company names, and so on) aren’t always spelled ‘correctly’, or in the standard way; they might also be derived from a language other than English, which make spelling them correctly harder for native English speakers (the same applies for any other language too).
Double-check them by Googling them, and, if necessary, add them to your in-house style guide to avoid discrepancies between different authors and editors.
7. Use a screen reader
I first started using screen readers to assist with checking website accessibility, but I quickly discovered they’re also invaluable proofreading tools. Because the screen reader isn’t human, it won’t accidentally skip words as it reads out the document, making it great for detecting sneaky errors you might normally overlook. Bear in mind that it won’t pick up punctuation errors or homonyms, so you’ll still need to proofread normally.
8. Proofread three times
Budgets and deadlines are always concerns in the business world, but I firmly believe that proofreading something three times is a good balance, especially if it’s an important document.
Here’s what I do:
- First time: I proofread, either on paper or on the computer
- Second time: I re-read the document out loud, and make amendments as necessary.
- Third time: I go over it a final time using a screen reader.
Even if your process is a bit different, proofreading multiple times is generally a good idea.
Got any other proofreading tips? Leave them in the comments, or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.