You slave away on your content, whether for yourself or a client, only to find an error after it’s published. Or, you see a typo in a query letter after you hit send. Then you spend the rest of the day praying the editor doesn’t notice. Sound familiar? Not anymore. With these top proofreading tips from professional proofreaders, prepare to have error-free copy from this day forward.
Professional Proofreading Tips
Let it Sit
The best way to guarantee error-free copy is to put some time between each editing session. When I write a magazine feature, I try to finish it a week or more before the deadline. When I think it’s the best I can make it, I put it away and don’t look at it again for several days. Then I take it out and begin my proofreading process. If I think I’m going to have to look at it a second time, I wait another few days. The more time you can put between each editing or proofreading period, the better.
Not only does your word processing software alert you of errors in your copy with those annoying red squiggly underlinings but many writers use other apps as well. These apps check for grammatical and punctuation errors, misspellings, passive voice, and more. A few of these apps include:
Across the board, the advice from professionals is to not rely on them. Yes, they’re great. Yes, they help improve your writing. And yes, they’ll probably catch that embarrassing typo. But sometimes, they’re just wrong. Here’s an example:
The point here is to make the final call yourself.
Bill Seiberlich of Wedgewood Communications Services has a different spin on using apps. He says,
I use [spellcheck programs] twice–once before the human proofing and then again after the humans are finished.
Print it Out
Printing your copy provides a change of scenery and gives you a new perspective. Changing the margins before printing re-arranges the copy, fooling your brain into thinking it’s a different story. Consider printing it in narrow columns and changing the font to make it easier to catch mistakes.
Read Out Loud, Upside Down, and Backwards
Bob Mitchell, Marketing Production Editor with Highpoint Solutions in Philadelphia, says to read your copy from end to beginning and out loud. Reading it out loud helps you hear awkward phrasing that will trip your reader. Read it out loud to someone else. Or, having them read it out loud to you will help, too.
Use a Checklist
Professional proofreader Sally Olson uses checklists to proofread copy for her clients. She says,
I let apps do the heavy lifting when I am the writer. But I don’t trust them. In the end, I print the content to read aloud and, using a checklist, read it systematically.
In addition to the usual grammar, spelling, and punctuation, her checklists include things like verifying titles, checking the data in lists and tables, checking links to make sure they’re active, and fact checking things like numbers, statistics, and addresses.
Proofread for Your Reader
Finally, pro proofreader and copyeditor Rennie Sanusi with Top-notch Edits, says:
My top tip is to proofread with your reader in mind. This overrules all other grammar/writing rules for me. It’s okay to break a few grammar rules if it means you’re writing in a way your reader will understand because the whole point of proofreading/editing is to help the writer effectively communicate with their reader.
What are your best proofreading tips? Please share them with us in the comments.