A Roundup of Proofreading Tips

Sorry about the lack of recent posts here. A back injury kept me away from the computer for too long, but it had one unexpected, and welcome, outcome: lots of time to think about posts to write, including this one on proofreading.

To my writer’s mind, proofreading ranks right up there in importance with crafting compelling leads or marketing savvy, whether for a 150-word filler or a major article or book. My philosophy about proofreading is this: get all the help you can, from a responsible person or other reliable source, and try to make your work as nearly perfect as possible.

Over the years I’ve picked up some especially helpful tips from Internet sources like LR Communications Systems, Inc.; DailyWritingTips.com; Writing Consistently across Media; the Writer’s Handbook of the University of Wisconsin-Madison UW-Madison; About.Com Desktop Publishing; the University Writing Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock (UWC); and The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.

Here are some of those tips:

1. Put it on paper and read it out loud. People read differently on screen and on paper, so print out a copy of your writing. If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eye may have missed. (dailywritingtips.com)

2. Read through the entire document once to get an overall feel for content before you proofread for errors. (desktoppub.about.com)

3. Place a ruler (or a piece of paper) under each line as you read it. This will give your eyes a manageable amount of text to read. (UWC)

4. Don’t try to find every mistake in one pass. Read through the material several times, looking for different problems each time such, such as:

Typos and misspellings
Easily confused words (“to” for “too,” “your” for “you’re,” e.g.)
Ambiguity
Inconsistencies
Formatting problems
Factual errors
Missing words (Writing Consistently Across Media)

5. Use the search function of the computer to find mistakes you’re likely to make. Search for “its” and “it’s,” for “-ing” if dangling modifiers are problem for us; for opening parentheses or quote marks if you tend to leave out the closing ones. (UW -Madison)

6. Proof backwards. Begin at the end and work back through the paper, paragraph by paragraph, or even line by line. This will force you to look at the surface elements rather than the meaning of the paper. (UWC)

7. Proofread once aloud. This will slow you down and you will hear the difference between what you meant to write and what you actually wrote. (UWC)

8. Use the spell-checker on your computer, but use it carefully, and also do your own spell-checking. Computer spell-checkers often make errors — they might suggest a word that isn’t what you want at all, and they don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, for example. (UWC)

9. Remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals. (dailywritingtips.com)

10. Call phone numbers to verify them. If addition, subtraction, or other math operations appear in text, double check the figures. (desktoppub.about.com)

11. Check the numbers. Stating the value of an acquisition was $10,000 instead of $100,000 is definitely not the same thing. What about the population of China, is it 1,2 million or 1,2 billion? Make sure your numbers are correct. (dailywritingtips.com)

12. Closely review page numbers and other footer/header material for accuracy and correct order. (LR Communication Systems)

13. Read down columns in a table, even if you’re supposed to read across the table to use the information. Columns may be easier to deal with than rows. (LR Communication Systems)

15. Double check names. Check spelling of all names and company names. (desktoppub.about.com)

16. And finally this from (UWC) : Remember that it isn’t just about errors.

You want to polish your sentences at this point, making them smooth, interesting and clear. Watch for long sentences, since they may be less clear than shorter, more direct sentences. Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing; try to use sentences of varying length and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots.

Please leave a comment

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7 Comments on “A Roundup of Proofreading Tips”

  1. nice proofreading tips, my site might interest you, there are many tips there

  2. ldaley says:

    You do have a bunch of tips on your site. Nothing related to freelance writing, but the tips on finding help with computer problems I found interesting. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Karen says:

    I’m a student, and for proofreading I use a professional service — http://www.madproofingskillz.com. I think they do non-academic proofreading too, but it’s pretty awesome.
    Check it out!

  4. Kathleen Daley says:

    Thanks for these tips. I’m sorry to hear you have been having back problems; I hope you are on the mend. About a third of my job involves technical writing, and this post offered me some concrete advice to improve my proofreading skills.

    • ldaley says:

      The back is fine now–lots of aches and pains come with age and go away in time. Glad you found something helpful in the post–and thanks for reading my blog and your comments.

      I’m really envying you about your upcoming trip to Paris.
      Enjoy!

  5. ldaley says:

    Karen,
    I know there are professional proofreading services, but many writers like me have to watch every dollar so we do it ourselves.

    There’s another plus to doing it ourselves–we need to practice tip no. 16 (You want to polish your sentences at this point, making them smooth, interesting and clear. Watch for long sentences, since they may be less clear than shorter, more direct sentences. Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing; try to use sentences of varying length and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots).

    It’s hard to think of anyone else being able to cover all that.

    Some, however, may want or need professional help. Thanks for your comment and for providing a source of help.
    LD

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