Proofreading, the process of reviewing text (and images) via either a paper hard copy or in an electronic format, is an invaluable step in the workflow process. Failure to check for typos and formatting errors can, literally, make or break a project’s budget.
A quick Google search for proofreading yields about 3,380,000 results. So, where to start?
The first thing to remember is that the ability to proofread isn’t genetic. It’s an acquired skill. One person isn’t “born to proofread” any more than another is “doomed to misspell everything.”
Undoubtedly, at some point in your life, you’ve seen a typo in a menu, on a billboard or even in a book. You’ve had a gut feeling that a word doesn’t “look right.” The foundation for being an efficient proofreader has been poured. Now, let’s build on it.
Below are a few tips for further honing your proofreading skills. If you employ another effective strategy please, by all means, share.
1. Start at the top. Proofread the headline, and sub-headline(s), very carefully. Proper capitalization and character alignment are often overlooked.
2. Look for one type of error, then another. Don’t get bogged down by looking at punctuation, capitalization and grammar all at once. First, review the piece for punctuation errors, then begin again and look at capitalization; lastly, grammar. You’re more likely to see mistakes when looking for one specific thing at a time.
3. Talk to yourself. Slowly read each sentence aloud. Hearing the words better enables you to hone in on grammatical mistakes.
4. Buy a good old-fashioned paper dictionary. Electronic spellcheck is a great tool, but it’s word database may be limited.
5. Listen to your gut. If, while proofreading, a word doesn’t “look right,” find out why. Grab a dictionary and confirm the correct spelling. You may even learn different variations of the word that will come in handy down the road.
6. Invest in a good, red pen. Don’t be afraid to mark up the hard copy. If you’re unsure of something, and haven’t otherwise found an answer, make a notation. The next person to read the text may know. Don’t simply skip over it and keep reading.
When proofreading, there are several universal symbols you can use. The following table contains a few examples, as suggested by Merriam-Webster.
In closing, take a trip to your local bookstore. There are a number of helpful proofreading books on the shelves. They’re sometimes classified a “style books.” Here are a couple you may want to consider:
Copyediting & Proofreading For Dummies” by Suzanne Gilad
McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook” by Laura Anderson