Better Proofreading

Spotting typos in other people’s work is easy, but in your own it’s more difficult. You get too close to your own copy, and in the end you can’t see the mistakes for the words. The problem is being able to go from writing to reading, and distance yourself from your copy. Here are some techniques I’ve found for improving my proofreading.

Proofreading magnifying glass

Proofread your copy

  1. Check as you go. The problem with finding typos is when they become part of the copy and you can’t see them anymore after you’ve read them a dozen times. Proofreading  as you go helps you find errors before they calcify.
  2. Leave it. The longer you leave your copy before proofreading it lets you get more distant from it.
  3. Change the colour. Different colours can make your copy easier to read.
  4. Different font and size. Change the font type and size. Make it bigger, make it smaller, just make it look different. Making it really small can work well, since you’re forcing your brain to work harder and actually read the words.
  5. Print it out.  Mark it up with a pencil on a piece of paper. This is fun as well and makes you look a bit eccentric.
  6. Make a PDF. If you don’t want to print, create a PDF and check that. It creates a barrier and stops you editing directly, which means you read more attentively. Make notes as you proofread and then make your amends later.
  7. Read it backwards. Taken out of context, you’ll see the actual words on the page rather than what you expect to see.
  8. Check your titles and subtitles as well. Easily overlooked.
  9. Turn the paper upside down. You need to actually concentrate on what you’re reading, so you pay more attention to it.  
  10. Text to speech. You can find loads of free online programmes to do this, I use this one as it works with Google Drive. Hearing your copy read aloud is one of the surest ways to catch errors. You can even just use Google Translate.
  11. Read it out. Either aloud or silently. I like to read my stuff in the voice of Brian Blessed, imagining I’m shouting at my Hawkmen.

    Proofread like Brian Blessed


  12. Use as many checkers as you can. I work in Google docs but I always paste into Word as well for a final check. It’s always good to use something like the Hemingway editor too, to cut out unnecessary words.
  13. Make a list of your common mistakes. Build up a list of your common errors and do a “find in doc” search. For me these are things like ‘you’ instead of ‘your’, ‘simple’ instead of ‘simply’, and ‘actual’ instead of ‘actually’.
  14. Get a friend or colleague to check it for you. This one isn’t always possible, but if you’re lucky and work with a team, give your copy to a colleague to proofread.
  15. Check names and proper nouns. Errors here are easy to miss, since they’ll be underlined as spelling mistakes right from the start. Always go through and do a final Google check of names and places.

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