4 tips for better proofreading

To err is human.

However, leaving typos, poor grammar, inconsistent information and glaring mistakes in your text is more than embarrassing. It erodes credibility.

You can't and won't catch everything, but you can tighten up considerably by taking a more strategic, methodical approach to reviewing your written content.

Try these four tips to improve your proofreading:

1. Use tools to your advantage.

Pay attention to what your spell-checker is telling you. Don't rely on spell-check to catch everything, but it is a handy tool to catch redundant words and obvious typos.

Beyond spell-check, there are oodles of editing apps to choose from. Why not use technology to up your proofreading game?

[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to improve your writing today]

: If your spell-checker is telling you that a product name or industry lingo is spelled incorrectly, add the correct spelling to your dictionary.

2. Read backward.

Most of us have become unabashed skimmers.

Even while proofreading we tend to read quickly, which makes it easy to miss “small words” such as “to,” “the,” “a,” “he,” “she” and “they.” Our brains fill them in for us.

We also don't always look at the ends of words, assuming the presence of suffixes such as “s,” “ing,” “ent,” “ion” and “ly.” That's why reading backward is a useful proofreading tactic. It forces you to slow down and examine each word.

Reading backward—reading the final paragraph, then the penultimate one, and so on—takes practice (and patience), but you'll be surprised by how many errors you'll detect.

3. Review one aspect at a time.

Your content is more than words. It also features:

  • Formatting (spacing between words and lines, font and bullet-point consistency, margins and tabs, white space around images, headers and footers, etc.)
  • Numbers and dates (confirming accuracy and cross-references)
  • Charts, graphs and images (validating labels, titles, footnotes, etc.)
  • Names and titles (ensuring accuracy, spelling and capitalization are correct)
  • Web addresses and hyperlinks
  • Logos and trademarks

Don't try to edit everything at once. Review one aspect of your content at a time.

Tip: When proofreading a PowerPoint deck, formatting includes slide transitions, animation and video/audio testing.

4. Read it—thoroughly.

As you scour the copy, look for details such as:

  • Copy and paste accidents
  • Ensuring references to specific sections or pages are accurate
  • Making sure people are correctly identified in photos

Keep in mind that proofreading is different from editing. As a proofreader, your responsibility is accuracy—not style and scope.

A closing thought

If you're proofreading your own work, try to leave a full day between writing and proofing. Fresh eyes tend to catch more errors.

If deadlines don't allow for such a gap, take a coffee break. If your deadline was two weeks ago, try reading through the copy in a different room or on a different screen. The point is to proofread under circumstances different from when you wrote the content.

Of course, readers will probably understand what you're conveying if there are typos or words are missing, but effective communication should be flawless. Errors are more than distracting; they can diminish your credibility and authority.

A version of this post first appeared on the Lift Internal blog.

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