Now, more than ever, people are reading about you rather than hearing it from the horse’s mouth. If what they’re reading is clumsy and full of mistakes, it could put them off. Don’t underestimate the power of good copy. Here are our top-10 proofreading tips.
1. Take yourself away from distractions
Don’t try and proofread with the television or radio on in the background. Try to find a quiet area. Put your phone away and make sure you close your emails, so you can’t be interrupted.
2. Print out a hard copy
We often read text on a screen, but when proofreading, you’ll spot more mistakes reading a hard copy. If you haven’t got access to a printer though, change the background colour of the page to a light green. It can make it easier to read. Make sure the font is big enough and change the line spacing.
3. Read the piece out loud
Don’t be shy! By reading copy out loud, you’ll highlight more errors than reading in your head. It won’t necessarily help you spot spelling mistakes, but repetition and sentence structure are more obvious.
4. Read your sentences backwards
What we mean here is read the last sentence of a paragraph first, then the penultimate, etc, etc. Our brains are very good at filling in what we think should be written. By reading in a strange order, our brain can pick out errors and inconsistencies.
5. Be clear about what you’re looking for
Before you start proofreading, make a note of what you’re looking for. The first proofread could be to check spellings, the second could be to remove unnecessary jargon and the third could be grammar. Don’t try to correct everything in one read. Make a note of what you want to check, so you can tick it off when it’s done.
6. Don’t rely on computers
Spell checks and grammar programmes on computers are getting better and better, but it’s no substitute for you. By all means run a spell check, but make sure you still check for spellings when you proofread. Plus, proofreading is about more than spelling and grammar.
7. Consider your audience
If you’re writing a technical article and the audience understands the jargon used, you’re probably ok. But the audience could be new to a subject or you could be trying to convey a complicated message to a wide audience. As you proofread, ask yourself if you really need to use that jargon. Wading through impenetrable text is a big no no.
8. Check for inconsistencies
Do you need to capitalise certain words? Write them out in full or use the abbreviation? Have you written numbers consistently? You don’t want to have the number nine written out in letters, only to find it further along written as a number 9. And don’t forget headings and subheadings too. Keep a note of what you decide, so you don’t miss something.
9. Take a break before your last proofread
Once you’ve proofread and followed the above points, take a break before you read it one last time. Your brain will have committed some of the text to memory, so taking a break of a few hours before you proof it one last time, may mean you spot some more errors.
10. Ask someone else to do a final proofread
This final point is particularly important if you are the author of the copy. You can follow all of the points above, but another pair of eyes to do a final proofread is important.