Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2021 as part of our year-end countdown.
Proofreaders defend against errors that could cost content creators (and colleagues) their credibility.
They protect the integrity of the work and are the unsung heroes of the publishing process.
Proofreaders do not simply read and wait for errors to jump out at them. They take an active role in reviewing material, assuming that all content is guilty until proven error free.
Herein lies the secret to great proofreading. Proofreaders find the most errors—shhhh—when they look for them. Of course, it helps to know where to look and which types of inconsistencies you’re searching for.
Mistakes can lurk anywhere, including headlines, captions, and graphics. Errors may be unrelated to spelling or grammar, cleverly camouflaged as an improperly placed photo, an incorrect page reference, or a broken web link.
Proofreaders should ensure they check for some of the following flaws when reviewing print or digital publications:
- Missing or misspelled headers and footers, or non-sequential page numbers (never assume these items do not need checking!)
- Mismatching page references in a table of contents or in the body of the text
- Bad, broken or misspelled links
- Inconsistent or incomplete instructions
- Incorrect photo captions (always compare the caption to its picture!)
- Misspellings or missing labels in graphs, tables, or illustrations
- Variations in style or formatting
In addition, you’ll likely catch more errors if you:
- Read the text out loud.
- Make paragraphs smaller and sentences shorter.
- Read backward, starting with the last sentence and proceeding in reverse to the top.
- Take your time, and always read with fresh eyes.
It is the proofreader’s job to test all content for accuracy and precision before it goes out the door. Reading mindfully, with the intent to catch as many of these perpetrators as possible, is crucial to doing that job well. A proofreader should never ignore questions that arise when reviewing content—looking something up or querying the author is always advisable. If the proofreader falters, it is likely the reader will, too.
In the end, proofreading is about ensuring error-free content reaches its audience—for the author’s benefit in properly conveying the intended message, and for the proofreading sleuth in proudly earning more “Great catches!”