Sloppy copy can sink your credibility. That’s why proofreading is essential.
It’s not an exciting activity, but every writer must take strides toward becoming a more thorough proofreader. To improve your proofreading—and prevent a lifetime’s worth of shame and embarrassment—consider these three tips:
Print it out.
Smartphones and computer screens are made for scrolling. We have become scanners and skimmers.
When we proofread on digital screens, we tend to skip over things we shouldn’t, simply because our brains are trained to scroll. Printed pages, however, tend to force slower, more meticulous reading.
If you do print out your piece, keep a pen handy. Mark up your paper as you go, and jot down any issues you see. Write new ideas as they come to you. This method of proofreading requires additional time, but you’ll read more carefully—and thus produce a more coherent final product.
Take a break, then revisit your piece.
A pair of fresh eyes might be the most powerful proofreading tool in the world.
It’s tempting to say, “Good enough” after a flurry of writing, but waiting an extra day before diving into editing is always a smart move. Taking a substantive break between writing and revision works editorial wonders. If you give your mind and eyes time to rest and recover, you’ll catch a multitude of blunders and clunkers you missed the first time around.
There’s science at play here, too. Editing requires a different kind of thinking from writing. If you try to switch gears too quickly, your brain will stall. If you have days, hours or even minutes to spare, take them. Attack proofreading with a fresh mind and energetic eyes.
Use voice command technology.
Our eyes tend to to skip over tiny, treacherous typos such as missing or repeated words. Fortunately, your ears often catch what your eyes miss.
Try using your computer’s voice command feature. On a Mac, go to “System Preferences,” then click “Dictation & Speech.” From there, you can enter custom keystrokes that make your computer read highlighted text. The voice selection isn’t stellar, but hey, this isn’t public radio.
Listen and read at the same time. Watch for repetition, awkward phrasing and clunky sentence structure. Don’t rush.
If you take writing seriously, meticulously scour your text before hitting “send.” Proofreading is a crucial bulwark of your reputation—and livelihood—so take your time, and find methods that help you produce sharper, cleaner, tighter prose.