7 proofreading steps every writer should follow

Distinct from editing, proofing has its own specific functions that go beyond making sure the words are spelled correctly. Punctuation, fonts, and formatting issues all need attention.

Proofreading is the last line of defense for quality control in print and online publishing. Be sure to conduct a thorough proofread of all documents before they are printed for distribution and of all Web pages before they go live, using these guidelines.

Before you proof, you must edit. (This post explains the difference between the two processes.) There’s no use expending time and effort to check for minor typographical errors until the editing stage is complete. Review for proper organization, appropriate tone, and grammar, syntax, usage, and style before the document is laid out.

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Stakeholders should read the edited version before layout and submit requests for revisions during the editing stage. If anyone other than the editorial staff must see the proof, remind him or her that only minor changes should be made at this point.

1. Use a checklist

Create a list of important things to check for, such as problem areas like agreement of nouns and verbs and of pronouns and antecedents, and number style.

2. Fact-check

Double-check facts, figures, and proper names. If information remains to be inserted at the last minute, highlight the omission prominently so that no one forgets to do so.

3. Spell-check

Before proofreading a printout, spell-check the electronic version to find misspellings, as well as errors you or a colleague make frequently, such as omitting a closing parenthesis or quotation mark.

4. Read aloud

Reading text during the proof stage improves your chances of noticing errors, especially missing (“a summary the report follows”) or repeated (“a summary of the the report follows”) words.

5. Focus on one line at a time

When proofing print documents, use another piece of paper or a ruler to cover the text following the line you are proofreading, shifting the paper down as you go along. This technique helps you keep your place and discourages you from reading too quickly and missing subtle errors.

6. Attend to format

Proofreading isn’t just about reviewing the text. Make sure that the document design adheres to established specifications. Check page numbering, column alignment, relative fonts, sizes, and other features of standard elements such as headlines, subheadings, captions, and footnotes. Inspect each type of feature within categories, such as looking at every headline, then every caption, and so on.

7. Proof again

Once revisions have been made, proofread the document again with the same thoroughness, rather than simply spot-checking the changes. An insertion or deletion may have thrown off the line count, for example.

A version of this article first appeared on DailyWritingTips. This post ran on Ragan in 2013.

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