Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Top 10 Proofreading Tips

Proofreading is a very essential skill to have to make you the complete writer. Proofreading is a specialist job. It is not everybody’s cuppa of chai. It is a "good-to-acquire and hard-to-have" skill. A word of caution: It might increasingly give you a feeling of a thankless job. Occupational hazard, you might say. To quote Richa, my technical editor "Alas, the technical editor never gets direct credit for the job done."

Most of the time, your peers, senior members, or the one who has build up a reputation of being an 'eagle eye' takes over the task of proofreading. Oh wait… did I tell you that nobody, I repeat nobody likes their work to be edited and proofread? If at all you come across any writer who tells you he/she likes that his/her work is being edited or proofread, he/she is lying.

Proofreading can be categorized into three types:

a) Comparison proofread: As the name suggests, it is where you need to compare the original document with the new one. The original document could be handwritten notes, a typed document that needs to be re-typed because it was lost, a document with changes, or documents that change according to the products, especially for finance, banking and mortgage companies.

For example: XYX Mortgage Company has 25 different mortgage products for 25 different states of the US. Now, imagine a scenario where each product document changes (a few lines and paragraphs) according to the laws of each state. That is one huge task, and for one, risky, simply because miss one line or paragraph and the company might suffer huge losses.

As Mark Twain said in a different context, “Be careful about reading medical books. You could die of a misprint. So also, you could lose your job of proofreading inaccurately.

b) Content: Content proofreading is your everyday proofreading. It includes the usual spotting errors in grammar, spelling, structure, consistency and so on.

c) Format: The most difficult of the three – simply because you are looking for formatting mistakes. First of all you must know the document you are checking, whether it is the release notes, user's guide, or even a business letter. Formatting rules change for different documents. You also have to look for the alignment mistakes, spaces/double spaces, numbers, and footnotes and so on.

Top 10 Proofreading Tips

Understand the Human body: The brain, mind and the eyes have to be trained to see things others can not see. A keen eye for details is the need of the hour. Start the proofreading work at a time when you are being the most alert and attentive. Also, take short breaks when needed and come back fresh. A fresh look at the document and you could find mistakes you missed out.

Switch it off: Switch off your mobile phones, pagers or PDAs. Log-off from the chat client, mail client, social networking sites or any other communication tool. Isolate yourself in a room with your proofreading work. Silence will work its wonders.

Print the document: Proofreading works better on a hard copy. It is so much easy to catch the mistakes on paper, but make sure you get the latest printout of the work you want to proofread. At times, we end up precious time wasting in proofreading the document, which is not the latest copy. Online, on the other hand, might work for a few, but with a printed copy the percentage of finding mistakes goes up.

Get to know the rules of the game: No space before comma, no double spaces, single space after comma and the list goes on and on.

Proofreading group: Let your peers review your work and vice versa. No matter how good a writer you are, when it comes to proofreading your, own work typos and other errors slip out.

Double filter: The first filter of proofreading should be yourself; the second should be your critic, the eagle eye from your group. Add one or more filters of proofreading as per your needs and criticality of the project.

List of mistakes: Make a list of errors/mistakes you want to find out while proofreading. If you are starting with "typos”, make sure you look for typos right through. Run a spelling check first.

Do not try and find everything at one go. Your list of proofreading mistakes might include:

a) Typos
b) Confusing words (e.g., "except" for "expect" and "your" for "you're").
c) Ambiguity
d) Inconsistencies
e) Formatting problems
g) Missing words
h) Contractions

The Old trick in the book: Read backwards, as it makes you concentrate on words and not the meaning.

The last nail in the coffin: When you are done with the proofread. Ask someone to correct the mistakes in the document, referring your hand written or marked copy. When the mistakes are corrected, take a printout and cross-check the new document with your hand written or marked copy with it. Compare it carefully; remember if the mistakes are not corrected, all your hard work will be wasted. To repeat again, make sure you get the 'latest' printout of the document. Read the document for the last time, before it is ready to be delivered.

Proofreading is learning: Learning from your own and others’ mistakes. You can also get to know the proofreading marks/symbols which are used by editors.
Google for Proofreading marks to find innumerable sites.

Proofreading tips at
Proofreading tips at


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