From time to time, I get hired to proofread the final copy of a document before it’s published. Usually, it’s a document I’ve never seen as I have not been a part of the writing, editing or creative process.
So why do I get asked to jump in at this final stage? It’s because proofreading is an essential part of the writing process and the importance of it is often overlooked.
Whether you’re writing reports for the board, copy for a website, posts for a blog or even an email to a colleague, proofreading is an essential part of any messaging. Smartphone auto correct mistakes may get laughed off, but the reality is that spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors simply make your work look sloppy and unprofessional.
There’s no better proofreader than a fresh set of eyes; someone who is likely to pick out what your eyes have glazed over. But, if you can’t get a fresh set of eyes, here are my top three 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) Be consistent. Let’s be honest with ourselves – 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, for example, simply make sure that whatever you choose is used consistently. Don’t be spelling out numbers at the start of a paragraph and writing the same ones numerically at end of it.
3) Look it up. It helps to have a good dictionary and/or style guide by your side (when writing and when proofreading). Using free online ones are fine, but personally I’m partial to the real deal and stick close to my hardcover Canadian Oxford Dictionary and my Canadian Press Style Guide.