Tips for Proofreading

June 13, 2022

Red coffee cup on a saucer beside a green pen, both sitting on a rustic black wooden table. Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com.

Hey folks!

Proofreading is a very important step in the editing process. It’s the final stage, where any overlooked errors or spots for corrections are caught before it’s put on display for the world (or the person it’s intended for). It’s not something to be rushed or overlooked, but something to be taken seriously. Which is why I thought I’d give you a few tips for proofreading your own stuff, or to help you help someone else with theirs.

Tip 1: Read back to front

This is particularly helpful when you’re focused on spelling. By taking your head out of the sentence itself and reading the last word to the first, you’re more focused on the individual words, and therefore more likely to catch when one is spelled incorrectly.

Tip 2: Read out loud

Brains have the the strange tendency to fill in gaps or errors when they show up. Ever read one of those trick sentences where there are two the’s back-to-back but you don’t notice? (Did you notice the one in the previous sentence?) We also add pauses on our own, or mistake one word for another. By reading it out loud, you reduce the chances of automatically fixing things and assuming everything is as your brain sees it.

Tip 3: Keep a dictionary handy

Whether a reputable online dictionary, like Merriam-Webster, or a physical one, dictionaries are an editor’s best friend. If you have even the slightest inkling that something is spelled wrong, check it. Even if you’re 99% certain it’s right, look it up just in case. Better safe than sorry.

Tip 4: Print out the document

I’m always hesitant of this because I like to save paper. However, for final stages of a big project that’s going to go public? Printing can be highly beneficial. There’s something about looking at a screen that changes how we view things as opposed to seeing them on paper. Perhaps it’s the tactile aspect of actually holding the words in your hands (I’m sure someone has done a study). Either way, if you can manage to print a document towards the end of the process, consider doing so.

Tip 5: Run it through a different processor

Don’t get me wrong – the human eyes are the primary tool to rely on here. But the human eyes and brain, as noted, are fallible. If your content is on a computer, consider running it through more than one processor. For example, though I edit primarily with Microsoft Word, I’ll sometimes triple check my content through Google Docs, because Google catches potential errors in sentence structure that Word overlooks, that I might have also overlooked. You can use those, or Grammarly, or whatever other software you want. Just think about using three in total – you, your primary choice, and a secondary one

Tip 6: Reread

After you’ve proofread it once, do it again, if time allows (and you should try to make sure it does, whether you’re doing something for yourself or a client). You might catch things the second time around that you initially missed, or you’ll find a new error within a correction you made in the first round. Never hurts, and often helps, to check it twice. Turns out Santa’s got it right with that one.

(I had to.)

Tip 7: Don’t expect perfection

This one can be tricky for some to swallow, but there’s a high, and I mean high, chance that you will not find every error in the document. Something is bound to slip through, possibly a few somethings. That goes for professional proofreading as well as personal – think of how many novels you read where you come across something that needs fixing. It isn’t a problem, so long as you catch the vast majority of what there is to catch.

Round Up

  1. Read back to front
  2. Read out loud
  3. Keep a dictionary handy
  4. Print out the document
  5. Run it through a different processor
  6. Reread
  7. Don’t expect perfection

Any tips you’d add to the list?

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance poetry editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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