As a professional writer and editor, I strive for perfection in everything I produce.
Though I proofread backward and forward, fact-check, and check sources, simple preventable errors still occur; errors that are there for everyone to see. It’s kind of like showing up for a presentation in your underwear—there’s nowhere to hide.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying to alleviate errors. Don’t show up in your underwear on purpose. And don’t skip the presentation just because you’re in your underwear. Here are some proofreading tips that can help you keep yourself covered.
1. Though proofing requires extreme focus and concentration, it can be boring. Try something that relieves your mind of the pressure but allows you to stay focused. This could be chewing gum, tapping your foot, or listening to classical music.
2. The more familiar something is, the less we tend to notice it. This is why you can review something 10 times and still not notice that half a sentence is missing. You expect the sentence to be there. Have someone unfamiliar with your project review it and serve as your sanity check.
3. We tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Know your weak spot, and compensate for it. For example, complete a separate “graphics check” if you have a tendency to overlook page numbers, headers, footers, or other graphic elements.
4. The “source” writer is the worst possible choice to review the work. “Even a writer or editor who uses a disciplined, structured method to proofread can miss a glaring error because he or she is so close to the work,” according to an InternetTIPs article on proofreading advice. Again, have a disinterested third party review the draft.
5. Check for only one type of error at a time. For example, when checking for spelling errors, resist the urge to look for and correct any punctuation errors. Focus on one thing at a time.
6. Don’t check your work on the screen. Print a copy and check the work from a printed copy, “ideally using strong, natural lighting,” the InternetTIPs story advised.
7. Don’t even consider proofreading when you’re tired or stressed. If you’re distracted or inattentive, you’re wasting your time trying to proofread. Unless you are on a tight deadline, set aside a specific time of day for proofing.
8. Find a quiet area to reduce distractions. Tell your co-workers that you are proofing and that you need time and space to concentrate.
Readers, do you have any other proofreading tips?
A version of this article first appeared on the author’s blog Impertinent Remarks.