I know I talk about the importance of proofreading more than the average bear, but it deserves repeating: proofreading is important. Having polished, error-free communications is crucial in every industry—and doubly so in marketing, where messaging can play such a huge role in direct mail design. Proofreading can be tricky, but there are tools you can implement to help you catch as many mistakes as possible. Here are a few tips and tricks on how you can become a better proofreader:
Proofreading Tip #1: Read It Several Times
Depending on how important the piece you’re proofreading is, you’ll want to review it multiple times and take your time going through the text. There are no bonus points for fast proofreading—only penalties for missed mistakes. You should proofread your content at least twice. Depending on how important the piece is and how many eyes will see it, you should have another set of eyes review. As a general rule of thumb, keep proofreading the piece until you and your proofreading buddy (or buddies) can get through it without finding an error.
Proofreading Tip #2: Read It Out Loud
You don’t have to scream it to the rafters (or even read it in front of anyone), but you should always do your proofreading out loud. Your mouth will stumble on sentences that aren’t worded quite right, and your ears will pick up any improper grammar or poorly phrased concepts.
If you’re a little too shy about reading out loud, or if you just need to give your eyes a break, copy and paste your text into Google Translate (have it set as English to English) and have the program read it to you.
Proofreading Tip #3: Read It Backwards
Aside from being a great trick to bring to your next social gathering, reading backwards will help you find scores of writing errors. You’d be amazed by how many mistakes your eyes tend to glaze over when reading sentences as they were written. Reading backwards makes your brain work twice as hard and prevents it from going into cruise-control, so you end up looking at each word individually instead of relying too much on context from phrases and sentences.
Proofreading Tip #4: Take Breaks
After you’ve read through the piece, put it aside and take a 15-minute break. Take even longer if you’ve read through it more than once or are the author. Our brains start to become “immune” to errors after seeing something for a while; it will start to tell you what should be there instead of what is, and bypass errors. Taking a break helps us forget the content so we can go at it from a fresh perspective later.
Go for a walk, get some fresh air, get a snack, anything to get your eyes away from the copy. If that’s not possible, work on something else for a little bit. The more removed you are from the task (and its environment, function, topic, etc.), the bigger a “restart” your brain will have.
Proofreading Tip #5: Set Up for Success
Make sure that you have the items you need to proofread (like a working pen and hard surface) so you’re not having to stop mid-sentence to find what you need. It’s important that you’re giving yourself enough time to proofread, so don’t start proofing if you’re going to be checking the clock.
The optimal proofreading environment is subjective to the proofreader. Some need absolute quiet while working, others need some soft music playing to focus. Some like to proofread where they write, others feel the need to sit at a different workstation. Do whatever works for you. Just make sure you have enough light and are not straining your eyes reading a font that’s too small—you don’t want to get your rods and cones in a jumble or get a headache.
Proofreading Tip #6: Print and Review
It’s a well-known fact in the proofreading and editing world that you catch far more errors when you review a hard copy (i.e. printed paper). Print double-spaced with wide margins so your notes and edits don’t have to be microscopic. Also make sure that you print single-sided to ensure the ink from your editing pen doesn’t bleed through the paper and make reading nearly impossible.
If you want to get really fancy, change the font to Courier or another non-proportional font (also referred to as fixed-pitch, fixed-width, and monospaced). This will change the spacing of each keystroke to be the same width (so the “I” will take up the same amount of space as the “W”), which will help you better pick up on errors that can be missed due to how small they are, like commas that don’t belong there.
Proofreading Tip #7: Mark Errors Appropriately
If you’re using your computer to make edits to someone’s work, have the proper software turned on, like Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, to make editing easier to identify and implement. Also, be sure to use the comments function when appropriate to explain why you made a change or suggest an alternative to what’s there.
If you’re working with a hard copy, be sure that you’re making edits to the paper, not stopping each time you find a mistake to change it on the device. You should also use proofreading symbols to ensure clarity and choose a pen that makes clear, thin strokes and is in a color that stands out from the text (black and blue edits can be hard to find against black text). You can choose whichever color you want, although you might want to stay away from red as some research shows people tend to interpret it as being mean. (All the research I’ve read refers to red pen edits on a hard copy, but if you’re worried about how you’re coming off on your digital edits, here’s how you can change the color of Track Changes in Word.)
You’d be shocked by how many tools are in the proofreader’s toolbox. If you’re looking to step up your proofreading game, or if you need more advice on writing more effective copy, contact me today.
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