Proofreading 101

I don’t know where this comic originated, but its message says it all.

When I think back to my high school English classes, I remember my teachers telling us to read and then re-read everything before we turned it in. My mother is also a former high school English teacher, so that advice was offered at the homework table as well.

But it is good advice, and it is advice that shouldn’t get left behind in that high school English class. It’s advice that should be followed whether you’re writing reports for the board, copy for your website, posts for your blog or even an email to a colleague. Proofreading is an essential part of any messaging. Spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors look sloppy and unprofessional.

Here are a few simple tips to improve your proofreading skills and to strengthen any and everything you write.

1)      Read, re-read and then read it again. Yup, three times. It may seem like a lot, but think of the process this way – read it once to review the content, read it a second time to scrutinize every word and grammatical mark and a third time to make it perfect. Ideally, give yourself a break between each read through so your eyes don’t glaze over the same mistakes. Sometimes I even print a document for one read through because it really does look different on paper.

2)      Ask someone else to read it. There’s no better proofreader than a fresh set of eyes who can pick out what your eyes have glazed over.

3)      Be consistent. Let’s be honest with ourselves here – we don’t all know every single grammar rule off the top of our heads. And some rules are not quite rules, they’re suggestions. If you’re not quite sure how to capitalize a title, when to use a hyphen or when to spell out numbers, simply make sure that whatever you choose is used consistently throughout the document. So if you decide to spell the numbers one through nine – make sure it stays that way.

4)      Make sense of it all. Do you understand what you’re trying to say? Because if you’re not sure, no one else will be either.

5)      Look it up. It helps to have a good dictionary or style guide by your side (when writing and when proofreading). Using free online ones are fine, but I’m partial to my hardcover Canadian Oxford Dictionary and my Canadian Press Style Guide.


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