From the Editor’s Desk: 5 tips to help you proofread effectively
Published on May 6th, 2011 by Deborah Baum
There are no hidden secrets or short-cuts to editorial proofreading, even though, as writers and editors, we sometimes wish there were. Proofreading requires a meticulous attention to detail and a little patience.
Below is a good checklist to ensure your conscientiousness pays off with well-written, easy-to-understand and error-free content:
- Take a break.
One of the best tactics writers use is to step away from what they’ve been writing. Let your writing marinate for a little while before you come back to it. Removing yourself from your written piece will allow your mind to regroup so that your eyes are fresher and your objectivity is more acute. You’ll notice a lot of things you might otherwise have missed.
- Read with a fine-tooth comb.
After you have left your writing alone for a good chunk of time, come back to it and thoroughly read what you’ve written — don’t skim. If you’re reading text written by someone else, review it once and make your changes. Take another break and come back to it again for a second read. Regardless of who the writer is, the piece should be structured correctly – correct spelling, proper grammar, etc. — and concepts should make sense, beyond your own familiarity with the subject. Unless you’re proofreading a technical report or some other industry-specific document, try not to depend on your knowledge or expertise to determine clarity. Instead, ask yourself if the piece will make sense to someone who is not in your field.
- Read it out loud.
If you’re struggling to determine how a sentence should sound, try reading it out loud. When you recite your written piece, you will hear the inconsistencies — what sentences are missing, incorrect grammar, poor choice of words, etc. You should also be able to identify areas where comprehension and flow can be improved. As you read aloud, if you don’t understand the writer’s intentions or how one concept flows into another, most likely, others will have the same experience.
- Use your spell-checker.
Remember, spelling and grammar checks are your friend. Use the Word Macros as you write or after you’ve finished, not only to point out something you might not have noticed before but to make your copy that much cleaner. These tools are not fail-proof, however, and your spell-checker will probably catch words and phrases that you know are correct. But allowing the tool to run an impartial test will help you focus on areas that need your attention as you reassess your document.
- Get feedback.
Every writer and proofreader could overlook an error anywhere in the process. We’re only human. But, the more eyes that review your final work and the more feedback you receive, the better your chances are of producing a piece that is error-free, allowing readers to focus on its content rather than its missing periods.
There are many other tactics that writers and editors employ to ensure their content is clean, easily understood and engaging. What’s on your list of proofreading tips?
Other articles “from the editor’s desk”:
- How to write an SEO-catchy headline
- Commonly confused words – Just one letter can make all the difference
- How to avoid the most “time-honored” mistakes when writing a press release