Proofreading professionals take pride in their occupation and work diligently to ensure readers don’t encounter typos or any other inaccuracies in a piece of writing. Being responsible for a published typo has the potential to keep a proofreader up at night, cringing with anguish and regret. But every now and then, even proofreaders (the holders of the red pen, the original grammar nerds, and the deciders of the fate of the written world!) deserve a break too.
Whether you proofread marketing material, academic material, legal research, or something else for a living, the tips and tricks listed below are designed to make your proofreading life easier. Once implemented, they’ll help you become even more efficient than you already are.
Know What Style Guide You’re Following
When proofreading anything, especially when you’re working on multiple texts that are from different industries at the same time, always make sure you know what style guide the writers and editors are using and be aware of any other requirements set by the client or publisher. This may seem like a trivial thing to point out, but it’s common for editors or proofreaders to disagree on changes made to a text because they haven’t discussed what style guide or manual to follow.
Give Yourself Time and Rest When Necessary
When possible, take breaks, especially when working on dense pieces of text or pieces of writing with over 20 pages. Try to take a break (five minutes or more) every hour or so when working, just to breathe and regroup your thoughts and energy. Ideally, you should give yourself a minimum of 24 hours (sometimes more for longer pieces) before submitting something that you’ve proofread. Sleep on it when possible. For maximum time efficiency, create a calendar listing due dates when you have multiple projects and need to keep things prioritized. And don’t ever try to proofread when you’re exhausted, because being tired will cause you to miss more mistakes. Proofreading takes concentration, so get rest when you need it.
Focus on One Type of Error at a Time
When scanning a piece of writing for errors, only focus on one type of error at a time per read-through. When reading a text for the first time, don’t make any corrections at all. For the second read-through, check for punctuation errors. For the third read-through, check for spelling errors. And so on. Doing this will increase your proofreading speed significantly, as well as your level of accuracy for catching even the smallest of errors.
Keep a Record of All Changes
There is never a change too small to track. Make sure you keep a record of everything you’ve changed as you proofread a text. If you’ve changed one error a few times and then changed it back to its original form, you’ll want to first consult the style guide you’re using for direction and then flag the error for another proofreader to review.
Double-Space the Text and Break It Up into Smaller Bits
Regardless of the text you’re proofreading, it’s easiest to proofread it when it’s double-spaced instead of single-spaced. This is especially true for text that’s printed. There’s a reason some English professors and publishers require you to submit your writing double-spaced. When you double-space text, you can focus on one line at a time, one word at a time, and it’s easier to see correction marks.
If you’re proofreading a document that’s multiple pages, break it up into smaller sections so you can focus on one section at a time. For instance, for books and manuscripts, only focus on one chapter at a time. For white papers and research papers, focus on the text underneath one header at a time.
When conducting your first read-through of a text, you shouldn’t correct anything. However, you should make a list of common mistakes present throughout the piece of writing such as:
- Is there one abbreviation that is consistently misspelled or capitalized when it shouldn’t be?
- Is there one type of punctuation that is consistently in the wrong place?
If you want to get fancy, you can even color code common mistakes by error type. For example, all spelling errors can be highlighted in yellow while all punctuation errors are highlighted in green. The items that are on your list should have their own read-throughs later, where you’ll read through the text to focus on each error individually.
Read the Writing Aloud
It’s easy to scan a piece of writing so quickly that you skip verifying the use and placement of common and repetitive words (e.g., a, the, and). The same goes for common punctuation. This is especially true if you’re accustomed to reading thousands of words every single day. Reading aloud forces you to read slower and deliberately; it ensures you say each word and that you follow punctuation.
If you don’t like the sound of your own voice, you can also use the text-to-speech function inside your word processor to read your text aloud to you. It may sound robotic at first, but it will highlight obvious errors, such as omitted words and misplaced punctuation.
Read in Non-Linear Patterns
When you read in non-linear patterns, the point is to trick your brain so that it’s on alert to look for errors. Once you’ve read a text multiple times, you’re more likely to speed through parts of it. To ensure you don’t skip over parts, read the piece of writing backward, or read every other paragraph or every other sentence when conducting your read-throughs.
Do you have a tip or trick that works for you that’s not listed here? Share with us in the comments below!