Proofreading: Top Do & Top Don’t

September 13, 2010

You’ve spent days or weeks writing your very important document, and it’s now time to publish it. But first it needs to be proofread.

Since you’ve spent so many hours writing and re-writing your document, you’re not the best person to proofread it. When you read things over and over, you tend to almost memorize them, and you’re less likely to see mistakes. You know what it “should” say, so you can even fill in words in your head that aren’t actually on the paper. This is especially tough for speed-readers, who can’t slow down their reading enough to catch mistakes. Some speed-readers routinely skip the smaller words; other speed-readers skip many more words.

If you have time, set it aside for a day or two, then take a fresh look at it. Or if you’re lucky, you have a proofreader in-house. Most of us don’t.

My solution? Read it backwards – out loud. And spell the words.

For example, if the sentence is “The sky is blue.”, read as follows:  blue, b-l-u-e, is, i-s, sky, s-k-y, the, t-h-e.

Proofreading backwards is very time-consuming, but it will catch any spelling errors or typos. It will not catch grammatical errors. I first learned this proofreading technique when working on technical journals.

You can also have someone read the document to you  – either backwards or forwards. For example: The, capital t-h-e, sky, s-k-y, is, i-s, blue, b-l-u-e, period. 

Obviously, if you’re reading forward, you are more likely to catch grammatical errors.

And don’t, don’t, don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker and grammar checker. Use it as one tool, but don’t use it as your only tool. A spell checker can’t tell you if the word should be “too” or “to”. It won’t tell you if the word is “there” or “their”. The grammar checker may catch some of these words, but it won’t catch them all.

You may also want to REMOVE some words from your spell checker. For example, if you use the word “gape” frequently but have mistakenly typed it as “gap”, remove “gap” from your spell checker.

I learned this lesson the hard way.  Hopefully, after reading this post, you won’t.

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