30 April, 2014

Proofreading tips

Sometimes the last thing you want to do when you have completed a piece of work is proofread it. You’ve run it through a spellchecker – that’s enough write rite right? Take it from me and my colleague, who happens to be an English tutor in the midst of marking essays, proofreading your work properly is essential. A spellchecker will pick up many spelling and grammatical errors but not all.

Whether you are writing an essay, a report, your CV, an online article or an email to a client, knowing how to proofread effectively is a skill worth cultivating. At university, badly written and non-proofed essays and assignments will be marked down in some subjects. In the workplace it is not only embarrassing to discover errors in your published work (or worse, someone else has found them) but also unprofessional. So don’t let mistakes blemish your work – take the time to proofread and be proud of your creation.

I am often tasked with proofreading documents at work. I know from experience how easy it is to miss things, so here are some tips I find helpful.

Step away from the document
Put space between you and your text if you are proofreading your own work. When you are writing, you are in a creative mode. You want to get those ideas down on paper. Proofreading is more of a science so only proof after you have completely finished the writing and editing process. Try to put it aside for a day and proofread fresh. This way you are not distracted by the content and can avoid reading what you meant to write and can focus on what is actually there.

Print it out
I am constantly amazed by how easy it is to read a sentence on screen and not notice duplicated words, misspellings and typos. Your eyes will thank you too.

Remove all distractions
To proofread effectively you need to concentrate. Find a quiet space that is free of interruptions and banish your phone.

Check for potential problems separately
I find it useful to proofread for one thing at a time. Read the document for sense first as you may need to make changes which will require revisiting later. If you need another opinion, ask a friend or colleague to read it too. Then check separately for sentence structure, spelling and grammatical errors, and finally punctuation. Do this slowly, line by line, word by word.
If you confuse their and they’re, its and it’s, and your and you’re, seek help at www.copyblogger.com/grammar-goofs. Also watch out for homonyms. There is a big difference between ‘he is a little hoarse’ and ‘he is a little horse’.

Read out loud
Reading your work aloud can help identify problems, especially comma placement and lengthy sentences. Interestingly, the spell checker takes no notice of whether I type ‘allowed’ or ‘aloud’ in that previous sentence.
I haven’t tried this, but apparently reading the text backwards also helps you focus on the actual words and you are more likely to notice mistakes. Another method is to cover up the line below with a blank sheet of paper so you are not tempted to skip ahead.

Get your facts right
Double check all facts, figures, proper nouns, quotes and links.

Check the formatting last
Documents often have their own special formatting requirements. Check paragraph spacing, text wrapping, indents, fonts and styles. Do this last as things may move during editing.

Do a final proof
Once you are happy with your document and have made all the changes, print it out again and give it a final once over.

Do not put all your faith in your spellchecker
Still not convinced you need to proofread? Then heed the well-known poem Candidate for a Pullet Surprise by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar which begins:

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

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