Did you know it’s National Proofreading Day?
That’s right, folks! It’s officially March 8, 2017, and that little ‘ol eight makes it National Proofreading Day. To celebrate today’s dedication to error-free writing, I thought I’d share my top 10 tips for exceptional proofreading.
Don’t Get Caught With Errors
To err is human, but it doesn’t make typos any easier to stomach. The last place you want to air your errors is in public, whether to a client or in a published work. How can you avert mishaps and present the most polished writing possible? Proofreading is essential.
Now, there’s a difference between proofreading and editing. I covered it back in a blog post called Editing vs. Proofreading. Anyone can proofread their work, and everyone who writes should. Here’s how you can maximize the process:
Tip #10: Always Make Time
Deadlines are the devil. Procrastination is hell. Combine them and you’re in hot water.
Don’t skimp on proofreading time. While there are always exceptions to the rule, chances are you know your deadlines in advance. Great writers manage their time accordingly, allowing for research, writing, and thorough review.
You must always make time to proofread. Plan it and follow through.
Tip #9: Take a Break
I recommend taking a substantial break before proofreading, especially for those pieces that take a lot of blood and sweat to produce.
Fresh eyes cannot be underestimated. It’s best to walk away from a piece and do something else before returning to proofread. Some of my favorite things to do before giving my writing the once-over include:
- Going for a walk
- Taking the dog out
- Running an errand
- Grabbing a light snack
- Cooking dinner
- Playing a game with the kids
- Working on another project
Pro Tip: Plan to proofread the next day.
If you budget your time wisely, you can schedule proofreading for the day after you’ve finished writing without endangering a deadline. You’ll approach the piece with a fresh mind and spotting errors will be much easier.
Tip #8: Use Proofreading Software
There’s no such thing as the perfect proofreading program because nothing can replace the human eye and brain. But there are some programs that can supplement.
The word processing program you use likely has a built-in review function. While it might auto-catch basic errors, it’s always a good idea to run the review function itself.
When it comes to proofreading software, I’ve tested my fair share. So far, only one program makes my “comprehensive and affordable” list: Grammarly. You can use the software online for free or purchase a paid version that can be integrated with Microsoft Word. Grammarly catches up to 10 times the mistakes of a standard word processing program.
Pro Tip: Check out my Grammarly How-To. Be aware, it houses affiliate links.
Tip #7: Blow It Up
Don’t let tiny text trip you up. It’s the 21st Century, and 99.9% of writers use a computer to write. Every modern word processing program allows you to zoom in and out on the page, so tiny text should never be a stumbling block.
When proofreading a piece, zoom right in! I sometimes proofread at 200% magnification simply because it helps me spot subtle errors. It’s also much easier to focus on each word individually versus a smaller or normal view.
Tip #6: Read It Backwards
It sounds crazy, and it’ll hurt your brain the first few times you try it, but reading backward is one of the best ways to find spelling errors that cause readers to faceplant.
Nobody likes to be knee-deep in an awesome piece of writing just to go splat on a misspelled word. Typos are like tree roots on a hiking trail. Some hikers buzz over them without a second thought, but most catch their toe and go for a ride. Faceplanting readers aren’t likely to return to your work, and you can kiss clients goodbye if mishaps run amuck more often than not.
Reading a piece of writing backward allows you to focus on spelling. It removes the danger of getting caught in the flow of your word stream and missing a technical fumble.
Tip #5: Double Check Homonyms
Homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Examples include affect vs. effect and bare vs. bear. Be aware of common homonyms and double check them when proofreading. Make sure you’ve selected the right word.
Pro Tip: Don’t depend on a program.
The key to which word to use where is context. Programs can’t always decipher it, but Grammarly comes close.
Tip #4: Log Your Most Common Errors
Every writer has a unique set of weaknesses. Maybe you always manage to type teh instead of the. Maybe you keep writing addition instead of addiction. Maybe you forget the comma in a compound sentence more often than not.
Take some time to create a list of your most common grammatical mistakes. Then, when sitting down to proofread, dedicate a special session to searching for those specific errors.
Tip #3: Proofread Where You Spot the Most Mishaps
Have you ever noticed that you catch errors when reading your writing on something other than where you wrote it? For example, maybe you consistently find typos when reading a piece on your cell phone or tablet screen versus your desktop or laptop monitor. Perhaps you catch issues on paper more readily than on a screen. Build this quirk into your proofreading routine.
Dedicate time to reading your work within the area that best lends itself to catching mistakes – your cell phone, a tablet, an e-reader, the television. Print that bad boy and kick your feet up with a pen if that works best. There’s no wrong way to proof besides not proofreading at all. Find your most efficient and accurate process.
Tip #2: Read Out Loud
One of my greatest proofreading tips is fairly simple. When you proofread, read the text out loud.
Great writing is fluidic. When you read your work silently, your brain has the amazing ability to insert missing words, auto-correct misspellings, and add needed punctuation because you know what you’re trying to say. It’s easy to read what you’ve written silently and miss blaring errors that will stumble readers.
You can amp up your proofreading quality by reading out loud. It’s the best way to catch and correct technical, mechanical, and quality issues.
Tip #1: Enlist Fresh Eyes
Sometimes the best proofreading strategy is to enlist a new set of eyes. I strongly recommend this for lengthy projects (like manuscripts) and projects that have been a struggle or have great importance (like college papers).
Authoring creates a bond. No matter how much a certain piece of writing is work, you connect with it on an emotional level. Or at least, you should. Great writers infuse every piece they write with humanity, and as a result, they somehow connect with it. Having someone else proofread such projects is smart.
You can ask a friend or colleague to read your work, but you’ll still need to spend time proofreading. As a writer, your ability to catch grammatical errors is likely greater than that of your friends and family. For pieces that must be as error-free as possible, hiring a professional editor or proofreader is a must.
Pro Tip: Contact me.
I’ve been knocking out proofreading projects for years. I’ve helped hundreds of writers and professionals elevate their writing.