Reading Saturday’s Star newspaper, I chuckled when I read Brendan Seery’s comment about handing an Onion to a Communications Company that sent a press release through that were full of grammatical and typographical errors.
Proofreading relates back to pride and personal reputation. How proud are you of your own work? Many years ago craftsmen were prepared to put their own signature on a product that they manufactured, to show their involvement. Brendan also laments the organization for not checking the release before sending it out.
However seldom is people taught the importance of revision or how to proofread. There are tips and techniques that any person can use to reduce potential errors and anger in readers. Whether you are preparing for a conference presentation or drafting a brief memo, writing is a process. This means that no document can be written in one swoop; it always requires several levels of revisions and edits.
The following sources should be utilized throughout the writing process:
- COMPUTER – Always use your computer editing tools first, such as spell check, grammar, punctuation, and style checks. Beware over reliance on this. Many people think that Microsoft will pick up errors automatically. This is a fallacy. It can help, but too much reliance on technology is dangerous.
- YOURSELF – Reread your writing several times to make sure that sentences are structured properly and convey your ideas in the way that you wish.
- OTHERS – Ask your coworkers, friends, or family members for feedback on your writing.
- PROFESSIONALS – Consult professional editors when writing long documents.
Once you have completed the writing, proofreading starts. I have compiled a list of tips and techniques that you can use. Take a look, and let me know which ones you think works for you.
1. Print your document before sending it. Proofreading on the computer screen is generally more difficult. Errors are easier to detect on hard copy as opposed to on a monitor.(If possible, remember the Green Movement – think about a tree)
2. Read when you’re most alert, whatever that time may be. When you’re tired, the odds of overlooking errors increase. This is a mistake I made earlier on in my career.
3. Divide up your tasks. Proof once for grammatical errors, again for spelling and punctuation, and once more for content. I know someone who first check headings, then take a break, then do the rest. Some try the 48 hour rule – leave it alone and then go back to it.
4. Have at least three people proofread your work. Being close to a project makes you more likely to skim over errors. Everyone has different strengths and will more than likely find different errors. I for instance have had a problem with the word address for many years. For some reason I always missed it.
5. Read your writing out loud. This helps to identify errors that you might miss if you just read silently to yourself.
6. Place a blank sheet of paper just below the line you are proofreading and move your finger along under each word. This keeps your eyes from wandering to the text below.
7. When marking the document, try using a yellow highlighter pen.
8. Read your document backwards one final time, beginning from the bottom. This helps disconnect your mind from the content and focus on the individual words.
9. After you make final corrections, make sure to proof the revised document. Verify that all the corrections have been made.
10. Pass it around one more time. It’s amazing that even after going through all these steps, someone will usually find a mistake.
But there’s another quote that may represent the most compelling argument for revision and proofreading. It was a piece of advice that the editor of the Wall Street Journal gave to a new editor toiling away one night on a story.
“Remember,” Barney Kilgore told Michael Gartner, “the easiest thing for the reader to do is to quit reading.”
The biggest problem with revising and proofreading is not the words, it’s the attitude. Every piece of writing is an expression of who you are.
Writing is about connecting. You want the reader to read your document. Make it easy for them to do that by careful attention to the final output.