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12 Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Proofreading

Proofreading a document well is not an easy task as it requires a lot of concentration. If your mind gets diverted by something else you cannot expect your proofreading to be perfect. Overall, the biggest “don’t” for proofreading is without any doubt not proofreading the text at all!

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is an important part of the writing process and involves language experts who carefully study a written document so that punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling errors can be identified and corrected. All good writing is subject to revision and modification and proofreading is an essential part of the proofreading process.


    How to proofread a document?

    There are several factors you should consider when proofreading a document which are:

    • Do not depend on automatic grammar and spelling checkers.
    • Divide the document into manageable parts.
    • Read every word slowly. 
    • Read the writing backward

    What you should always remember is not proofreading a document at all is the biggest mistake you are ever likely to make.

    Proofreading tips

    1. Get someone else to proofread the document

    As soon as you have finished the task of writing a document you must get somebody else to proofread your document. If you haven’t corrected the grammatical mistakes or you have misused words a second proofreader has a higher chance of finding the errors than you will ever have. One of the commonest problems of proofreading your own text is that you are far more likely to miss errors than someone who doesn’t know text at all. Another common mistake is failing to recognize your own mistakes because you see them every day. To avoid this problem you should negotiate a price with a serious proofreader who will ensure that there is no word wrong.

    2. Leave the proofread for a while

    Ensuring you are absent from the writing for a while gives you a fresher perspective so you should be able to put down the text and when you pick it up again it will help to discover what the problems are. When you return there is a high chance that you will feel more familiar with the proofreading environment and do a better job.

    3. Print the proofread

    Computer screens these days are the normal way to complete a proofread but this doesn’t necessarily make it the most effective method. Printing the complete document and slowly reading through it with pen in hand to mark mistakes and correct sentence structure you will be surprised how many errors you missed on the computer screen.

    4. Make sure your style sheet and guide are easily viewed

    If the document is long and in a particular language it helps to have the style guide placed in a position you can easily see. You can then quickly refer to it as you are reading through the document. Style guides are appropriate for various documents such as certificate and legal where there are acronyms and terms which are written out in a certain way which you will have to check when you proofread the document. Capitals are used in some types of documents which might not be quite the same in others. Academic essays have their own styles too such as when it comes to the position of footnotes and how authors’ works are referenced.

    5. Eliminate all distractions

    Whether you are proofreading a hard copy of a document or its digital version a good proofread is rarely achieved if your computer screen is daubed with fingerprints or your desk is covered in paperwork. These are both potential distractions to completing a good proofread so remove them before you start work. Turning off your phone and the internet restrict your distractions as well.

    6. Work at a slow pace

    Proofreading isn’t about just locating the main ideas in a text but it is ensuring there are no mistakes at all. In order to achieve the best proofread you should do the task slowly and methodically so that you pick up all the mistakes. That means focusing on every word in the text and not just quickly skimming over it expecting to get a good outcome.

    7. Know what to look out for

    There are some parts of a text that a proofreader covers without too much thought. These include:

    • spelling and punctuation;
    • checking page headers and footers;
    • checking page numbers;
    • examining graphics and tables;
    • checking for consistent formatting.

    It pays to have a checklist nearby which should prevent you from failing to proofread all aspects of the text.

    8. Check one aspect of the text at a time

    Depending on the type of text the best tip for the best proofread is checking each of the different parts of the text on its own. For example, check for correct spelling and grammar together and then check formatting on its own. You might want to carefully read the text over again to check if the paragraphing is correct. Breaking down a proofreading task into small, manageable parts makes it easier to focus on each. Having a checklist at your fingertips means you can give a tick when each part is complete.

    9. Say the text out loud

    If you are not likely to distract anyone read the text out loud. This focuses on the flow of the text and ensures you have corrected the punctuation which is a key to the flow of any text. It also helps to ensure the spelling is right if you pronounce every syllable as you read.

    10. Look at the text in reverse

    If it’s a story you are reading or an interesting opinionated text you might be more focused on the content than the proofread. This could mean being distracted you may miss some important errors. One way to avoid missing mistakes is to start at the bottom of the text and reach each paragraph until you get to the beginning of the text. This means you won’t be distracted by the text’s contents but you are more likely to focus on correcting mistakes.

    11. Use any technology you have available

    It always helps to have some input from a non-human as sometimes things like Microsoft Word’s spell checker helps to pick out errors quicker than you can. You have to make sure you set the tool to the right language so the right spelling, in particular, is applied. For example, there are various versions of English such as U.S., U.K., Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand English. Most of the time there are no differences, but there are some spellings that may differ between these different types of English. You have to concentrate when the spellchecker is sieving through the text, as there is an ignore button you need to press if you don’t agree with the suggestion.

    12. Don’t be afraid to consult with an expert

    If you get stuck on spelling or a word you have never heard of before, don’t feel afraid of asking someone for their opinion before you finalize the proofreading task. Your client will be happier if you have done a good proofread than if you have shown you have hesitated because a word isn’t consistently spelled throughout the text.

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