Have you ever proofread a letter, leaflet or information sheet 20 times, then printed out 10,000 copies ... only for someone to look at it and point out a glaring error?
Yes I guess we've all been there, done that! If you are responsible for proofreading important documents (and aren't all
documents important?) then here are my tips for effective proofreading:
- Avoid distractions. It's best to proofread in a quiet environment, with no disturbances such as phones, background conversation etc.
- Read the work out loud. Using proper intonation will help you to spot faulty sentence construction and bad punctuation and grammar.
- Concentrate on reading one word at a time. This takes practice. It's fairly common to skim over the words when we read normally. Try to make a conscious effort to stare at each word in turn. This isn't as slow as it sounds - it's just a different reading technique.
- Be methodical - read one line at a time. Use a ruler to guide your eyes so that you don't miss the odd line.
- Take a break occasionally. Especially with longer documents, you need a break now and again. Everyone loses concentration after a while, so set a time limit and then take a break.
- Remember to look also for inconsistencies in style and presentation, such as headings that suddenly switch from capitals to lower case, or a change in font or spacing.
- Leave a decent period of time between writing and proofreading the work. Reading with a fresh approach will help you to spot more mistakes.
- Print out a hard copy for the final proofreading. Somehow we always manage to miss a few errors if we rely on proofreading on screen.
- Keep your knowledge of punctuation and grammar up-to-date. Unless you know what is correct, you cannot spot mistakes.
- Ask someone else to do a final check of important documents - we tend to be able to find other people's mistakes much more easily than our own!