Having a fresh set of eyes do a ‘cold read’ proofread of any document before it’s published is always a good idea. You don’t need a professional proofreader (although that’s not a bad idea either!) but ideally you need someone who has never before read the copy.
Why? Because they’re less likely to read what you intended to write rather than what’s actually on the page. They’re likely to catch the ‘a’ instead of ‘an’, the missing comma or the extra word in a sentence.
A good proofreader will focus on correcting minor grammar, usage and style mistakes while dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. But a great proofreader will also fact check and cross-reference a document.
When I take on a proofreading job, here are a few of the basic fact checking rules I live by. This is by no means a definitive list, but it’s a start.
1) If an address, phone number or email address is mentioned, check it. These are all important pieces of information and cannot be wrong – and yet, sometimes they are. I’ve seen ready-to-print brochures listing a company’s old address, and invites to an AGM with an incorrect address for the conference centre.
2) If names are listed, check it. Board and executive members are usually easily searchable on a company’s website for cross-referencing but if not, or if you have other names that you can’t check, flag it with the writer to double-check the spelling.
3) If it involves math, check it. Do the addition, subtraction, multiplication or division yourself. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve found pie graphs that don’t equal, or round up to, 100.
4) If it refers to a number of items, check it. Again, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve read a headline that refers to a certain number of items and yet, the copy has too many or too few items.
5) If another page or chapter is referenced, check it. Large reports are often written in sections and it’s common for page references to be incorrect, particularly when it comes to the table of contents. I’ve found more page reference errors in the table of contents than I can count.
6) If a date is mentioned, check it. Nothing will undermine credibility like having to print a revision (or post a revised statement) to correct the date of an important company event or misstating the date of a historic event. So, even if you’re certain of a date listed, check it.
7) If something seems odd, anything at all, check it. And if you can’t check it, flag it with the writer.
Inaccuracy in a published piece – whether in print or online – hurts everyone’s credibility. And while we’re all only human, fact checking while proofreading will save you from making small, yet embarrassing, mistakes.