The importance of proofreading cannot be overlooked. Proofreading skills do not develop overnight, but rather improve with practice. You can develop these skills by reviewing your own work, as well as the work of others. Because proofreading can often be a tedious project, below are some tips that can make the process more manageable.
Tips for reviewing your own work
One of the major difficulties with proofreading is that it is very hard to proofread our own work. Often, when we review our own document, we see what we want to see rather than what we have actually written. This can lead to missed errors. Below are some tips for proofreading your own work:
1. Slow down. Proofread line by line and focus on each line. Sometimes I cover the rest of the paragraph with a piece of blank paper so I am only looking at one line at a time.
2. Know your own weaknesses. Make a list of common errors and check every document for those errors, one at a time.
3. Do not proof for every type of mistake at once. Rather, do one proof for spelling, one for typos, one for consistency of word usage, one for formatting, and so on.
4. Read your work aloud. This will often alert you to run-on sentences and other errors that you may not catch by simply reading the document to yourself.
5. Eliminate distractions. Careful editing requires great concentration. Therefore, it is a good idea to turn off distractions such as the radio, the television and your cell phone.
6. Make a hard copy. Always print out your work rather than reading directly from the computer screen.
7. Sleep on it. Before you start editing your document, wait a night, preferably longer. The goal is for your brain to forget what you wrote so that it sees what is really written, not what it expects to see. You will be amazed by how many more errors you will catch!
8. Don’t be afraid to cut. Almost all of us are too wordy. If you cannot justify a point, statement, sentence or word, eliminate it. Conciseness should always be your goal.
9. Don’t overlook headings, bibliographies, tables, page numbers or footnotes. Errors often lurk in these places.
10. Check the numbers. This is also where many mistakes can happen. You don’t want to write that your product costs $10,000, when it really costs $10.00.
11. Watch out for homonyms. Homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation or spelling, but mean entirely different things. Mixing up the words “accept” and “except” can completely alter the meaning of a sentence!
12. Read it backwards. This is good trick to prevent your brain from automatically “correcting” wrong words inside sentences. In order to break this pattern, you can read the text backwards, word by word.
13. Repeat. Unfortunately, one round of editing is usually not enough. After corrections have been made, don’t forget to proof the revised document. First check to see that all of the corrections were made, then read over the document one more time to make sure you didn’t miss something the first time around!
Tips for reviewing the work of others
Most of us have been asked to review someone else’s writing, whether it be a friend, family member or colleague. For many, this is a dubious task; but in fact it is often easier to proofread someone else’s writing than your own. Although there is not one right way to edit, here are some tips to make the process a little easier:
1. Ask for clear instructions. For example, does the writer want you to review the content of the paper or just the mechanics, such as grammar and spelling?
2. Avoid meaningless changes. Maybe you prefer the word “happy” to the word “glad,” but unless the change makes a substantial improvement to the document, you should bite your tongue!
3. Admit your shortcomings. If you are not sure about the proper placement of a comma or are uncertain if a word is used correctly, do not guess. Simply flag the item so that the writer can further research it if he or she chooses.
4. Be nice. Avoid harsh comments such as “I have no idea what you mean!” Rather, phrase your comments diplomatically in the form of suggestions or questions, i.e. “I would suggest clarifying this point so that your reader fully understands it. Perhaps, you can provide examples.”
5. Be specific. Rather than simply stating that a paragraph is confusing, offer specific suggestions for improving it.
6. Be consistent. Although you do not need to learn standard proofreading marks, your editing should be consistent. In other words, use the same symbols/marks for the same mistakes throughout the draft.
7. Use the track changes feature. This is the easiest way to make your changes and comments apparent to the writer. It also allows the writer to easily accept/reject your changes.
8. Don’t proof for every type of mistake at once. This tip applies to all forms of editing. Rather, do one proof for spelling, one for typos, one for consistency of word usage, one for formatting, etc.
9. Don’t hesitate to suggest omissions. Your goal, as an editor, is to help the writer make the document more concise. Therefore, if you do not think that a word, sentence or even paragraph strengthens the writer’s message, do not hesitate to suggest omitting it.
10. Make yourself available to discuss your edits and suggestions. Written comments can be unclear and impersonal. Therefore, it is good practice to sit down with the writer to answer any questions he or she may have after reviewing your comments/edits.
11. Stay positive. Try to point out something positive about the writing, making your praise as long and detailed as your most in-depth criticism.