Finally. Your document is almost complete. After endless corrections, re-writes, and reviews, the final edits are in place and it’s now ready for proofreading.
Proofreading might seem like a simple and possibly even non-essential task in the fast-paced, throw-away society we live in. But, while proofreading tips can make it look easy, the intense focus and attention to detail proofreading required make proofreading one of the most challenging parts of the production process.
What’s more, the words we use now travel further and have more of an enduring impact than ever before. In short, words matter. And without accurate proofreading and editing, revolutionary ideas and concepts can get lost in a misplaced comma or spelling inconsistency.
However, there are ways to improve your proofreading skills and ensure your work is professional and error-free. Keep reading to learn more about proofreading, including some of the best proofreading tips and tricks around.
What Is Proofreading?
Before we get into improving your proofreading abilities, it’s important that you know the true proofreading meaning. Many people confuse proofreading and editing but they involve very different tasks and happen at distinct parts of the production process.
Editing corrects issues such as language clarity and sentence construction. An editor scrutinizes and polishes your writing to ensure that it is readable, clear, and has the appropriate tone. Long written documents in particular, such as theses and books, will undergo several rounds of editing long before the final draft is ready.
Then, and only then, can the proofreading start. Proofreading involves correcting surface-level issues and errors in already good writing. Proofreading is also less open to interpretation as proofreaders must follow universally accepted grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting rules. If the writer and editor have done their jobs well, corrections will often be minimal. But that doesn’t make the proofreading process faster or any less crucial.
Proofreaders need to spot the mistakes that everyone else has missed. As such, proofreaders need to have an impeccable level of attention to detail and focus. If this sounds like you and you’d like to know how to become a proofreader, check out these proofreading courses to learn more!
Proofreading Tips and Tricks
Unless you’re currently writing a novel, chances are you’re responsible for writing, proofreading, and editing your document.
As such, you’ll likely find that a lot of the proofreading tips we’re about to share will come in handy during the whole production process. But, since proofreading is the final stage before your document is in the hands of your intended audience, this is when you’ll need to use the most scrutiny and precision. Let’s take a look at how:
- Perfect Your Possessives
Apostrophes might be small but they can cause big problems in how we read and understand a sentence. While you might smirk at the classic grocers’ apostrophe error of “banana’s on special offer today”, we’re betting that your smile fades a little when you have to consider the difference between ‘it’ and ‘it’s’ or ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’.
When we talk about people and the things they own, we use the apostrophe to show possession. For example, “John’s car is red”. We also use the apostrophe for contractions. So, you’d also see it in a sentence such as “John’s late” or “John’s already done that”. Here, the ‘s’ represents ‘is’ in the first sentence and ‘has’ in the second. But, since ‘it’s’ means ‘it is’, we don’t use the possessive apostrophe for items that belong to this mysterious ‘it’.
Now we’re clear on that, how about ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’? Although these aren’t words you’d use as often, this can often add to the confusion that surrounds them. Like ‘it’s’, ‘who’s’ is the contraction of ‘who is’. For example, “This is my sister, who’s three today”. As for ‘whose’, we use that in sentences that indicate possession, both unknown and known. For example, “Whose t-shirt is this?” and “This is John, whose car was stolen yesterday”.
Simple, right? Well, if not, it’s time to brush up on your possessives if you want to know how to become a proofreader!
- Follow the Correct Formatting Rules
Whether you’re writing a psychology paper or preparing a brief for a client, formatting requirements matter.
Different disciplines also have different rules so don’t assume that you should format a literature essay in the same way as you’d format a chemistry report. Nothing screams a lack of attention to detail during the proofreading and editing process more than failing to follow the correct formatting rules.
Before you even start writing, make sure you’re clear on the formatting rules you need to follow in relation to spacing, citation styles, recommended sources, border sizes, and so on. If you don’t, it’s easy for teachers to deduct marks or for clients to reject what they might see as sloppy work, no matter how great it is.
- Consistency Is Key
The English language might be strict on some issues, such as adjective order. But, there are many other areas that are open to interpretation. Not to mention, the different versions of English all have slightly different grammar, spelling, and vocabulary rules.
Being aware of these looser rules and language differences is vital if you want to learn how to become a proofreader. After all, proofreading isn’t just about cutting errors, it’s also about eliminating inconsistencies. For example, if the text uses the word ‘percent’ at the beginning of your document, any future mentions of percentages should use the word rather than the symbol to maintain consistency.
Inconsistencies can among some of the hardest issues to spot, especially since they aren’t errors within certain contexts. For example, while it’s typical to say, ‘The company are expanding’ in British English, this would be considered an error of subject-verb agreement in American English. Likewise, whereas it’s becoming acceptable to use words such as ‘organize’ and ‘realize’ in British English, Americanisms such as ‘center’ and ‘theater’ are not acceptable.
In most cases, your instructions will specify that you stick to a certain version of English when proofreading. But if not, avoid adding to the confusion by making sure that your corrections align with one version only.
- Know Your Homophones
Homophone errors are also hard to pick up on, not least because they sound right and aren’t as glaringly obvious as regular spelling errors.
Some of the most common are bear and bare, they’re, their, and there, affect and effect, except and accept, and advice and advise. Recently, as social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook give us access to more written information from non-professional writers, we’re also starting to see how many people confuse the terms everyday and every day, and apart and a part.
If you’re one of them, everyday is an adjective that means ordinary or something you use often. For example, ‘My everyday tasks include opening the mail and photocopying documents’. If you want to express a daily habit or occurrence, you need to use the adverb, ‘every day’. For example, ‘I get up at six every day’.
Being aware of these potential pitfalls is a vital part of proofreading, meaning that you’ll need to practice spotting and correcting errors in everything you read to harness the kinds of precise language skills you’ll need as a proofreader.
- Read It Backward
Reading a text backward is one of the oldest and best proofreading tips and tricks out there. Yes, it makes it hard to understand the document, but that works to your advantage.
If you’re at the final stage before sending off a completed document, the flow of the text doesn’t matter. Any errors here should have been ironed out in the editing process. Instead, you’re here to find spelling and grammar mistakes. And this is a lot easier to do when the story isn’t distracting you.
- Don’t Rely on Correction Software
We’re not denying that correction software is a useful tool. But, relying on it to catch all your errors for you is a recipe for disaster. An even worse idea is following all the suggestions that the software recommends as a lot of these can end up making a document sound odd or even unreadable.
Remember, you’re the proofreading and editing expert. Correction software can only support your skills, it can’t replace them.
- Get Help With Headings
Writers can sometimes struggle with headings and titles, making them an area that proofreaders need to pay extra attention to.
One of the main issues is that there are several different title capitalization styles, including APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style. If the instructions call for one particular style, make sure to use it throughout. Otherwise, there’s no right or wrong choice, but keeping consistent across headings is just as important as it is within the body of the text.
When in doubt, capitalizemytitle.com is a valuable resource for checking that your headers meet the standards set by whichever of these different capitalization styles you’re using.
- Read Your Writing Out Loud
Writing and re-writing the same document over and over again often causes you to lose objectivity. By the time you get to the proofreading stage, you know what’s coming next even before your eyes see the words. This is when reading your document out loud can help.
Speaking the words you’ve spent so long staring at releases them into the world. And, unlike your tired eyes, your ears will be fresh and ready to pick up on any grammar errors, repetitions, and missing punctuation.
- Print It Out
The human brain has a much stronger connection to writing on paper than it does to text on a screen. This is why writing down notes by hand makes them easier to remember later than doing the same using your smartphone or computer.
With this in mind, it’s often more effective to print out your work and read it on paper when proofreading. We tend to catch more errors when we read sentences printed out in black and white than we do when reading from a screen. Experts explain that this relates to the way that backlighting and low resolution mess up our perception of the written information we take in. But, whatever the reason, try this proofreading tip for yourself and you’ll see how many more errors jump out at you when you check a paper document.
Some people also recommend printing out your document in a different font. This small but noticeable change can make you more aware of mistakes as the paper document will look different, offering a refresher for your eyes when reading.
- Walk Away
In an ideal world, you’d have a separate writer, editor, and proofreader for every document. Proofreading especially is best done by someone detached from the text and its meaning. Unlike editing, collaboration with the writer is not necessary for spotting universal grammar errors and punctuation mistakes.
But, if you’re the one doing all three tasks, it’s important that you at least separate them with time. Proofreading isn’t something you can do straight after you’ve finished writing or editing. Instead, it’s best to walk away and leave your text for several hours or even a full day before you come back to it.
Stepping away from the writing process allows your creative juices to cool down for a while. You’ll then be a lot more objective when you come back to your document with fresh eyes after a rest. Often, you’ll be stunned at how full of mistakes your text is! As such, this is one of the most important and effective proofreading tips and tricks out there.
While proofreading is the last phase in the production process, it’s far from an afterthought.
Instead, it’s the final seal of approval, with the proofreader’s eyes being the last to review a document. But, relying on the failsafe proofreading tips listed here ensures that they meet the high standards of grammar and spelling required of them.
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