proofreading tips

by Jody Bruner

No matter how good you are at what you do, documents with grammar mistakes will erode your corporate and personal credibility.

Proofreading is challenging for a couple of reasons. First, the mind tends to substitute correct words, “seeing” what was intended or what should be there instead of what is actually there. This tendency accounts for errors such as “She’s form Britain.”

Second, most of us tend to read far too quickly to spot all errors on a line of text. When we read at a normal pace, we fixate on a line of text in three or four places. We can only really see about six characters with each fixation, and everything else is picked up with our peripheral vision, which gets less and less accurate the further it is from the center.

Here are seven strategies from our one-day Grammar and Proofreading course that will help you improve accuracy:

  1. Cultivate a healthy sense of doubt. If there are errors you typically make, always double check for those. In general, it’s a good idea to doubt every word to help you catch every mistake.
  2. Proofread very slowly. Remember you can only really see one word at a time, so patiently fix your eyes on every word on the line – twice on the longer words. Remember to really look at the word and resist sliding over it.
  3. Proofread aloud. This helps because it both forces you to slow down and lets you hear what you’re reading so you can spot missing or repeated words.
  4. Use a spell checker and grammar checker as a first screening, but don’t depend on them!
  5. Proofread with a buddy. It’s twice as difficult to proofread something you’ve written yourself.
  6. Proofread important documents several times. Have a strategy for each proofread, and create a checklist of things to look for in every read.
  7. Spend a half-hour each month reviewing grammar rules.

Taking the time to proofread documents thoroughly is well worth it. The more you do it, the easier it will become.

What strategies do you use to proof your work? Please share!

  1. Great message. My typical mistake is to read/proof to fast. This is a great reminder to slow down/read out load. I really like the suggestion to review grammar rules regularly. Is there some place I can go to do this?

  2. What I see in a lot of documents are mistakes in words such as to/too/two, there/their/they’re and recently cite/sight/site. Spell check will not pick these up and if the writer doesn’t know which form is proper, he/she will miss them while proofing as well.

    • Hi Jerilyn! Absolutely. You can’t rely on spell check or yourself if you don’t know the grammar rules. Maybe a grammar refresher is needed!

  3. I was recently editing a first draft of a book on mental health therapies when I noted that the author and spellcheck kept confusing three important terms — medication, meditation and moderation. It was an excellent example of how easily the mind fills in what it expects to see and of the dangers of depending on spellcheck.

    • Hi Michael. It’s so hard to slow down and read word by word. This is a great example. Thanks for sharing!

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