Top Ten Essential Tips for Proofreading

1. Print whenever possible.

We love trees, but we also know that it’s tougher to proofread on the computer. Print your document whenever possible—we promise it’s worth the paper!

2. Slow and steady wins the race.

When you treat proofreading like a race, you start skimming and will likely miss issues, especially at the end of whatever you are reading. Use subvocalization—hearing what you’re reading in your mind or saying it out loud under your breath—to maintain the ideal proofreading pace. People who work to become speed readers often try to avoid subvocalization, but it can be a valuable tool for helping you focus on the document at hand.

3. Play hide and seek.

Our proofreaders are known to hole up in any nook and cranny they can find in the office or at an agency. Don’t be afraid to go into a conference room or a far corner of the office to get the peace and quiet you need to proofread. Getting interrupted while you’re concentrating is similar to getting woken up from a deep sleep—it takes time to get back to the level of concentration you’re at.

4. Make the rounds.

It’s not easy to catch everything in one pass, so whenever possible, take the time to do more than one round of proofreading. Use one round as a dry read and mark whatever you can find. Then you can do additional rounds focusing on things like layout, headings, images, and more.

5. Know thyself.

Do you leave apostrophes out a lot? Do you mix up “ie” and “ei” words? Make a list of your problem areas and spend time looking for these specific issues in a piece.

6. When in doubt, definitely doubt it.

If a word looks funny or you think you need a comma, do the research to confirm. Be 100% sure, not 99%. Google is a proofreader’s best friend.

7. Look through the text, don’t slide over it.

Studies show that as long as the first and last letters of a word are correctly positioned, the others can be jumbled and most people can read the text. You need to slow down so that you are physically reading every letter. Scan with a pencil to help see what’s actually on the page.

8. Use your senses.

The more senses you can use, the better. Read with your eyes, scan the words with a pencil, and read out loud. Reading out loud is especially helpful for finding awkward phrases.

9. Create a personalized, project-specific checklist.

Keep a list of the things you need to look for and cross them off as you proofread. Identity specific things you need to check, either because you are you or because you are proofing a specific type of document (résumé, article, blog post, etc.).

10. Don’t be a grammar Nazi.

Be a polite proofreader, especially if you have to talk through any of your edits with a client. Stick to proofreading symbols and simple, succinct queries. If you aren’t required to use a red pen, using a more neutral color like green or purple can soften your edits.

2 comments to Top Ten Essential Tips for Proofreading

  1. John Rambow

    One tip I recently read for online copy was to do one pass with the font/sizing changed (obviously, this should be a backup copy!). This may help reveal things you’d have missed otherwise. Not practical for anything too long, but handy for shorter stuff.

    • Bryan Garner

      I like it. I also like to read the copy backwards, focusing on each word.