You just finished drafting your latest blog post, and your finger’s hovering over the PUBLISH button. You’re just about to share this literary masterpiece with the world… until it hits you. It’s the voice of your English teachers from the past imploring you to “proofread, proofread, proofread!”
And so you do. At least you think you do.
Your eyes roll over the page one more time from top to bottom. You look for words in need of capitalization. You search for punctuation marks gone missing. You scour for major misspellings (minor ones get a pass). And then, with one keystroke, out it goes for the world to see.
It doesn’t take long for the complaints and questions to start rolling in from clients, coworkers, and c-level staff. “Hey, you misspelled something in your headline.” “Did you mean to include that last sentence in the first paragraph?” “That’s not my job title anymore.” And before long you’re un-publishing and revising with your editorial tail tucked far between your legs. And as you edit, you mumble under your breath that proofreading never helped anyone.
Except that what you did wasn’t proofreading. It was rereading. They’re certainly not the same thing. Proofreading involves more than just running your eyes back over the copy. It’s more about a process. It’s a strategy that includes specific ways to best examine the words you wrote.
Here are five things you should always do when proofreading:
I know, I know, this sounds odd. But nearly everything we read and write these days comes in digital format. When proofreading, give your eyes a break. Let them run across a hardcopy form and be amazed at what they find just by seeing it on paper. You’d be surprised at how many errors can be caught this way.
Because we’re constantly up against a deadline, our tendency is to jam the proofreading process in right at the end. Instead, allocate some time to walk away from it. Go get a drink. Talk to a coworker. Go for a walk. Just turn your mind off and away from the piece you’ve been drafting. Then come back to it. Look at it with fresh eyes.
Unless you work at a library, SPEAK UP! Use your voice. Let your ears proofread the words you wrote. Again, you’ll be surprised at the errors you find when you hear it yourself. You may also find it helpful to have an entirely new person (perhaps a coworker or spouse) take a look at it or read it out loud to you.
I had a journalism teacher encourage her students to proofread from the back to the front. Not every word, but paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence. And she was right! It gives you a better idea how well your content flows.
Whenever you have others review your work, keep a list of the errors they identify. You don’t want to keep making the same mistake again and again. Keep a list to refer back to when writing, so that you’ll become more aware the next time.
Now, proofread this blog post. How many errors did I miss?