Proofreading 101

It may only be August, but the past two weeks have gone into high gear on our campus. The looming arrival of another academic year means a corresponding onslaught of communication needs. We find ourselves proofreading our own and other’s content like we were bailing out a leaky rowboat in the middle of Lake Michigan with nothing but a spoon.

Mistakes happen even when we are not under pressure. And, if they slip out into the public it’s embarrassing at best. So I’ve developed a bag of tricks for proofreading. This seemed like a good time to share my favorites.

1. Stop editing for content.

This is my number one rule for proofreading. You cannot effectively proofread if you are still revising. Skip proofing until you are satisfied with what you’ve got. Or you’ve run out of time, whichever comes first

2. Speak it.

I think reading out loud is the only effective way to catch missing words. Otherwise, you will just fill in whatever is missing from your own mind as you go along.

Alternately, print out the content and read it upside down. This forces you to think about each word.

3. Take it line by line.

Carefully examine one line at a time, word for word, without reading for meaning. Take it slow, so you are not jumping from one obvious mistake to the next, missing more subtle errors in between.

In my opinion, this is the way to catch misspelled words and other common blunders lurking within tricky linguistics, homophones and the like.

Reading word by word backwards is another great way to catch misspellings.

 4. Sweat the small stuff.

Double-check little words like of, or, in, which can easily get interchanged. Pay special attention to headings, captions, and subject lines. Also double-check all the boilerplate text. It’s too easy for this material to get overlooked.

5. Know your weak spots.

In my case, it is spelling people’s names wrong and any number. I also stumble over when to use “i.e.” or “e.g.”  No matter how many times I look it up, it never sticks with me. I keep a running list of the types of mistakes I am prone to. Then I know what I’m looking for in a final read through.

Final Thoughts

For some people, excellent proofreading seems to come naturally. But most of us have to practice. Games make it more fun. Check out Portland Proof’s Proof It! game to test your skills against the clock. In it, you’ll be challenged to find the error in ten sentences. If you are really good, you could get the top score of the day.

I’ve shared the best from my bag of tricks. What works for you?

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One thought on “Proofreading 101

  1. You offer great advice on proofreading. Myself, I read aloud my sentences to find mistakes although I have some slip by me. I agree that changing content should be done prior to the proofreading.

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