No matter how advanced we become as communication professionals, we need to keep our proofreading skills sharp. Clean copy is essential to our credibility and to being an effective communicator. Here are 12 tips to help boost your proofreading prowess:
- Focus. Multi-tasking can distract you from catching errors. Listening to music and podcasts can cause you to miss errors. To be a great proofreader, recommit yourself to the long-lost art of “uni-tasking.”
- Proofread after you edit. Don’t confuse proofreading with editing. Make your revisions first then do your proofreading. Proofread for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.
- Watch out for “spelling by ear.” Be careful of homonyms, words that share pronunciation, but have different meanings such as “except” and “accept.” Spellchecker won’t catch them.
- Print out your text on paper. People read differently with light reflecting from a printed page than with light emitting from a screen. If you’ve read a particular piece numerous times, switch it up by printing it out on a different color of paper or read line-by-line with a ruler to help you focus.
- Be careful of contractions. Train yourself to read contractions as spelled out words. That will help reveal grammatical errors, such as subject-verb agreement, with the words that follow.
- Read the text backwards. We often become blind to our own mistakes because our brains automatically “correct” wrong words and fill in missing words. To break this pattern, read the copy backwards.
- Read out loud. Mistakes are often revealed when you read aloud.
- Create a personal checklist. Keep a list of words you commonly mistype or misspell and then run a search and replace for each of them.
- Check telephone numbers. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to have a telephone number, especially a toll free number, published incorrectly. An incorrect toll-free number can cause a lot of problems for a business receiving unwanted calls from your mistake. A good practice is to actually call phone numbers to make sure they are correct.
- Double-check facts, figures and proper names. Facts and figures must be checked carefully for commas and decimal points. Make sure proper names are spelled correctly. These items are among the most damaging things to get wrong.
- Triple-check headlines and photo captions. Headlines and photo captions are among the most highly read elements of your copy and among the most embarrassing things to get wrong.
- Have someone else read your copy. It’s always a good idea to have a second pair of eyes on your copy. My wife always finds something I’ve missed. Can’t find someone else to read? Then at least give yourself a rest and come back to proofread only after you feel like a new person.
The worst typos I was responsible for included leaving the “r” out of “T-shirt,” leaving the “l” out of “public” and the “w” out of “Twitter.” What was your worst typo and what tips do you have to prevent mistakes?
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