March 8 was National Proofreading Day. Wow! A whole day just for acknowledging the importance of proofreading and encouraging error-free writing.
While perfection is actually not humanly possible, striving for it is always a good idea. That is, especially when you are trying to project a polished, professional image. And I know that as a changemaker, you definitely are!
Detailed proofreading makes your work stand out from the crowd. If you think your computer’s spell-checker is all you need to catch your every error, think again. If only things were that simple!
Final proofreading is actually harder than it looks. You have to keep in mind dozens and dozens of grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules. And you are still bound to miss things on your first go-round.
Here are some of my favorite tips to make your proofing task less draining:
1) Always take a break from your writing time—preferably at least 24 hours—before you proofread. You need to put some space between yourself and your piece, so your perspective can freshen up a bit. A mini-vacation will do you worlds of good.
2) Make sure you proofread at least once manually. Print out your piece, read it aloud, and use a colored pen to mark your changes. Read each syllable separately, and feel free to use a ruler or edge of a blank piece of paper to keep your place. After you make each correction, re-read the phrase or entire sentence to make sure it really makes sense in its new form.
[If you have to proofread on the screen, turn your monitor’s viewer to well over 100%. That way, the letters will attract your attention because they are much bigger than you are used to seeing them.]
3) Know thyself—build your Personal Cheat Sheet. Keep a running list of reminders about things that often trip you up. Once you have all of the information in one place, you will have a handy, customized reference guide.
4) Double-check the spellings of familiar words. Pay special attention to familiar words or phrases that show up in a lot of your work. You can easily gloss right over them and ignore transposed letters or words.
Cognitive psychologists tell us that when we encounter word fragments, our brains will fill in the letters that we meant to include, or believe should be there, but are actually missing. We also tend to skim over high-frequency words, assuming that they are always correct. We can find it hard to notice repeated letters or words when we were intending to just write them once (a phenomenon called “repetition blindness”).
5) Run the document through a spell-checker one more time after manual proofing. Sometimes when you correct one error you accidentally introduce a new one.
6) Show your work to a friend or “writing buddy.” A second pair of eyes will often catch more problems than you can alone.
7) Download my 1-page handout on the “Wild_World_of_Proofreading.” It includes a funny reminder poem of the errors that spell-check software can leave behind. It also offers a handy checklist of what to look for when proofreading.
You may think that solid proofreading doesn’t really matter to anyone except super-picky people. While this may be true in some cases, your image could be at stake. I say, it’s better not to risk it!
PS: Need some extra guidance or help with getting your report, book, or other piece ready for publication? Contact me for a complimentary strategy session to discuss your needs.