It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tech writer, a blogger, a student, or anyone who writes for any reason – your writing is an extension of yourself, so it’s important to take good care of it.
If you’re writing for an audience, typos and mistakes can cast a shadow over your brilliant words. You want readers to appreciate your masterpiece, but if they can’t get past your first sentence because of spelling or grammatical errors, then you’ve wasted your time writing it. Incomplete proofreading can interrupt the reader’s concentration, disrupt the flow of the text, and make you look foolish.
It’s a rare writer that produces a first draft that’s error-free, so here are some proofreading tips to help you ensure that your next article or blog post stands out for the right reasons.
1. Leave proofreading until you’ve completely finished writing. Writing is a creative process, whereas proofreading is precise and rule-based. It’s easier to see errors when you switch your brain from inventive to rule-based thinking.
2. Learn a new way of reading. When we read, we skim ahead and decode meaning without examining every single word. Proofreading is the opposite. It’s important to inspect each word carefully, searching for omissions or errors. It’s the best way to notice that your CV proudly announces that you’re a fat typist rather than a fast one.
3. Work from a printed copy. Proofreading is easier if you’re working on a paper document rather than a laptop or PC. Some people print their work out in a large font so that it looks completely fresh and new. That’s especially useful if you’ve been starting at the computer for a long time.
4. Minimise distractions. Turn off email, social media and your phone before you start. It helps if you go somewhere quiet so that you can concentrate fully. If you’re not completely focused, it’s trickier to see what’s wrong with a headline that says Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.
5. Avoid relying on spelling and grammar checkers. These are great screening tools, but they can’t tell you whether you’ve done something embarrassing like leaving the letter l out of the word public. They’re useful as a back-up but won’t pick up what a good set of eyes will.
6. Read your work out loud. You’ll soon realise if a sentence is too long if you find yourself wanting to take a breath, and it will be easier to notice repetitive words. Some writers say that reading the text in a different accent is an effective way to slow down and focus on each word.
7. Train yourself to see the small stuff. Keep a particular lookout for short words like and, of, the or it. It’s easy to miss errors with these, but they can change the meaning completely. You don’t want to tell your readers that your great new magazine article is not available when you meant to type now available.
8. Find a style guide and stick with it. There can be several different ways of spelling words or organising lists. What’s most important is that you use the same format each time. Even better if you ensure your style aligns with the other documents published by the site or organisation you are writing for.
9. Walk away. Take a break before you start proofreading. Doing something else for a few hours or better still, a day or two, will allow you to start proofreading with fresh eyes. If you can find someone else to review your work during this time, that’s a bonus.
10. Gather a toolkit. Make a list of omissions or errors you often find yourself repeating – like typing untied instead of united. Use the cheat sheet while proofreading to remind you to take extra care checking for excessive hyphenation or overused exclamation marks.
Proofreading errors can be embarrassing if you discover them after your work has been printed or published, so a little extra effort before you deliver the final product will reward you with content that hits the mark.