We\'ve all been victims of spelling errors and typos that often seem to taunt us and discredit the very work we spent hours â€“ if not days and weeks â€“ getting just right. And no matter if you\'re doing the job yourself or if your company has an entire staff of writers, editors and proofreaders in place, there will be mistakes that slip through the cracks.
A single proofreader cannot be blamed, however, and even senior copy editors miss very obvious errors sometimes. So, instead of trying to mend the damage done and distract from the snowball of embarrassment that follows a batch of error-riddled copy, you should hone your own proofreading skills, keep everyone else on track regarding tone and style, remember that everyone makes mistakes, and employ the following tips before your final proof hits the printing press or web.
Read the appropriate books again and again
- The 2 most helpful and time-tested books out there for any writer, editor or proofreader are The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, and the AP Stylebook, which is revised every year. The Chicago Manual of Style can also be helpful, but the first two books should contain all of the information you need.
Establish some structure with tone and style
- While it\'s nice to have more eyeballs on a project to help reduce errors, it\'s only really beneficial if those eyeballs are aware of any standards that need to be followed. It\'s good to establish a style guide because it will help you (and others if you\'re working with a team) stay on track regarding tone and style, in addition to using correct and consistent terminology.
Hard copies are a proofreader\'s best friend
- There is no harm in completing the first couple of edits on the computer screen, but it is ill-advised to convince yourself that printing out a physical copy to comb through is an unnecessary waste of time. Always print a hard copy. Always! The squiggly, colorful underlines in MS Word tend to be more of a distraction, rather than a helpful hint showcasing the actual errors. It is often best to ignore spell check and grammar check on the computer, and instead give your eyes a break from the screen to read the copy in physical form.
Minimize distractions and engulf yourself in your work
- Find your proofreading happy place and do whatever it takes to get the job done right â€“ close the door, turn off the phone and computer, play some Beethoven quietly and so on. Today\'s world is filled from morning till night with distractions â€“ from the internet to television to advertisements and more â€“ so be aware of what you can and cannot deal with while working.
- Even though this may sound strange to some, reading backwards is one of the best ways to catch the most commonly overlooked errors, such as repeated words and misspellings. There is just something so odd and unfamiliar about reading backwards that it provides you with a new take on the organization of the content, as well as the smaller, more insignificant and unheeded words and phrases that often get messed up.
- Reading backwards also reduces your reading speed, forcing you to actually read familiar words instead of just quickly skimming over them. This trick is especially useful when you're proofreading copy that you know very well or copy that gets re-used often (like a tag line or a company's description), preventing you from automatically assuming that everything is correct.Â
- This is also a great time to double and triple check the names of people, names of businesses, prices of products, and contact information.
Wait a day
- If you\'re not in a time crunch, it is always a good idea to sleep on it and take a fresh look with new eyes in the morning. The next day is also the perfect time to print out another â€œfinalâ€ copy in the proper layout to check for extra spaces, overall clarity and legibility.
A two-part mixture of experience and strategy is arguably the best path to achieving near-perfect copy every time â€“ notice the use of â€œnear-perfectâ€ to accentuate the fact that some errors are unavoidable. Obviously, the experience you possess can come only with time and effort. However, your strategy has hopefully been informed, or at least influenced, by the tips provided above.