10 Tips for Proofreading Perfection

March 7, 2010 9:12 am

872011_92349364I wrote an article for the FORUM for the Fall issue. Somehow it was published saying I was a student at Boston University. The Flint Journal published a news release about me, and got the context completely wrong.

At my various PR jobs, I’ve seen newsletters go out with a completely wrong Web address, misspelled words on materials, and promotions for events on the wrong dates.  Every time we realize mistakes like these get past us, we wince.

Ugh. We know better. We really do. But sometimes you’re in a hurry, are pressured to get it done or maybe you just don’t notice.

Then it happens and you say, “I’ll know better next time. I’ll proofread it.”

Here are tips on how to make sure those mistakes don’t make it past your desk.

  1. Print it out. The simplest way to catch your mistakes is to read a paper copy of your writing. Often, you breeze over mistakes on the computer screen.
  2. Read it out loud. At work, I avoid doing this by moving my lips as I am reading, so it is similar to reading out loud. But, the way you read and the way you hear are two different things.
  3. Check the subheads. Are you initial-capping  one and not the others? Are they all in bold? Do you have a colon following one of them, but not the others?
  4. Check facts, numbers and addresses. It’s easy to switch 830 with 803, and it makes a huge difference if it’s part of a phone number.
  5. Take a break. Come back and read it later. It will help give you a fresh perspective.
  6. Keep a list of mistakes you commonly make. I keep post-it notes of AP Style mistakes I commonly make. Before proofreading, I look at my list so I remember which ones to look out for.
  7. Check Web site links. If the link isn’t correct, you won’t be driving your audience to the right place.
  8. Proof for different things. After an initial read-through, go through it for specific things, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, AP Style, etc. It will make your proofreading job more thorough.
  9. Remove words with little value. One word we commonly use is “that.” Often you can reword the sentence and remove it. For example, “The new system that enables people to create widgets will be released in March,” can be changed to, “The new system enabling….”
  10. Check the headline. Sometimes I forget to even write the headline in my first draft. Be sure you’ve written a headline, and make sure the headline makes sense still.

What tips do you have for proofreading?


6 Comments »

  1. Printing it out is the best way for me to find errors. I read it on the screen, and it’s fine. Print it out…and I find an error. Good tips!

  2. Rachel! Great post! I do wince, especially when i read it 3 times. I know what I want it to say and sometimes it does to me no matter what it really says. Reading out loud for sure helps with that.

  3. Anne,

    I definitely agree. It’s the best way I’ve found so far!

  4. Lindsay,

    I think sometimes we read it so many times that it makes perfect sense…to us!!

  5. Awesome list Rachel, and I leave the headline for last a lot of times as well! I’ve also started using an online spelling and grammar checker; it’s not perfect, but it has picked up on a bad habit or two. For instance, I love writing “you’ll” instead of “you will.” While “you’ll” is fine for speaking, “you will” is proper for writing. C’est la vie!

  6. [...]  Revise, cut, proofread and repeat. You’re delusional if you think everything is perfect on the first draft. It never [...]

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About

Rachel M. Esterline works in public relations and marketing communications. Her blog, ExPRessions, contains her musings about PR, marketing, career and professional development, Gen Y issues, personal branding and more. Rachel also does freelance consulting and writing. She is originally from Genesee, Mich., and will graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2010.