The Art of Proofreading

In this information age, the art of proofreading can become a lost one. With the pressure many organizations face to compete with others to publish content quicker, some are forfeiting quality in favor of speed. Instead of including time for proofreading in project timelines, it seems some regard it more as an afterthought that may be cut in the interest of time, if need be. Quick postings are typically error and typo-laden, which, in some cases, can lead an audience to question the accuracy and respectability of the content of the article, report, or other project, and eventually the organization itself. The following proofreading strategies are worth considering to help your work avoid mediocrity.

Give it time. Come back to the project after completing a few other tasks to ensure what you’re reading is what you actually wrote, and not what you meant to write. Our minds tend to unconsciously make corrections to material that is still fresh to us.

The more eyes, the better. It’s always good practice to have someone else read over your work. It is much easier to catch mistakes in work that is not your own.

Break it down. Although it may be painstaking, go through the document word by word. To help your focus you may want to use some sort of instrument (like a pen) to point to each word individually as you go along.

Focus on one thing at a time. Dedicate one read through to spelling, then do another for grammar, and another for punctuation. Trying to keep all three in mind increases the odds of missing an error.

Change it up. Consider making the font and color of the text different for each read through to make it feel different. Any strategy you can employ to prevent reading on auto-pilot, so to speak, is a good one. You might even try reading the document backward when checking for spelling to make the task feel less repetitive.

Don’t rely on technology to be 100% accurate. Spelling and grammar tools on the computer don’t always get it right. It is hard for these tools to detect typos when they take the form of a properly spelled word. For instance, one may type if when they meant of, or goof when they meant good, or there when they meant their, and so on.

Know yourself. Pay attention to the patterns that may emerge as you proof over time. If you find that you tend to have trouble with a certain grammar rule, or often misspell the same word, be sure to pay special attention to those things in future writings.

If your office environment allows for it, try reading the document aloud. Another great option is to utilize the text-to-speech or narrator functions if your computer is equipped with them.

  • To enable this tool on a Mac, simply create a keyboard shortcut. To do this, click on System Preferences >> then click Speech >> then select the box next to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.” Next, you will press the key combination you want to use for the shortcut. Bear in mind that there are many existing keyboard shortcuts, so it’s important to find one that doesn’t already have a function. Command + Option + S seems to work well for this purpose. Once you’ve set your shortcut, use your cursor to select the text you want to be read and use the shortcut key sequence (Command + Option + S  in this example).
  • Most PC users will be able to access this tool by clicking the Start button and typing Narrator in the search box, then clicking on Narrator in the results. Once the program is running there are pre-set commands that let your computer know what you want it to read to you. A list of those commands can be found here, but it’s likely the one you’ll most want to use is Insert + F8 which will instruct Narrator to read your entire current document.
  • Also, remember to use headphones to avoid disrupting nearby coworkers

Glancing over your work is not enough to adequately proof something, especially for more formal and important documents. It takes time to pour over every detail and ensure that the project quality reflects well on you and your organization. We hope some of these tips will help you to identify and eliminate potentially costly mistakes in your writing.

Some of these tips are also discussed in an article posted previously on this blog. You may also find these additional resources to be helpful: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/citation/editing-and-proofreading and http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/the-readers-lament/.

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