8 proofreading tips and techniques

There are many gremlins lurking in the text, waiting to wreak havoc on your message. Here’s how to ferret them out.

Whether you are writing a magazine article, a college essay or an email to a client, getting your text free of mistakes is essential. The spelling checker helps, but it is far from foolproof. That is where proofreading comes in. Below you will find eight tips and techniques to make your proofreading sessions more effective.

1. Concentration is key.

To spot mistakes, you need to concentrate. That means getting rid of distractions and potential interruptions. Switch off the cell phone, turn off the television or radio and stay out of your email.

2. Put it on paper.

People read differently on screen and on paper, so print out a copy of your writing. If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eye may have missed.

3. Watch out for homonyms.

Homonyms are words that have (roughly) the same pronunciation but mean different things. Switching accept with except or complement with compliment could be disastrous, so pay special attention to them.

4. Watch out for contractions and apostrophes.

People often mix up their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. Make sure you don’t leave the wrong one in place, lest the error hurt the credibility of your text. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.

5. Check the punctuation.

Focusing on the words is good, but do not neglect the punctuation. Pay attention to capitalized words, missing or extra commas, periods used incorrectly and so on.

6. Read it backward.

When writing, we can become blind to our own mistakes because the brain automatically “corrects” wrong words inside sentences. In order to break this pattern, read the text backward, word by word.

7. Check the numbers.

Stating that the value of an acquisition was $10,000 instead of $100,000 is definitely not the same thing. What about the population of China—is it 1.2 million or 1.2 billion? Make sure your numbers are correct.

8. Get someone else to proofread it.

After checking all the previous points, do not forget to get a friend to proofread it for you. You will be amazed at the mistakes you’ve missed. A second person will also be in a better position to evaluate whether the sentences make sense.

A version of this article originally ran on DailyWritingTips.com.

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