Proofread Like a Pro

How many times has this happened to you? Your organization has printed a new brochure or launched a new web site. All your hard work has paid off and your message is out to customers. As you are taking a look at the finished product, you notice a glaring typo.

Proofreading can be tough. It seems not matter how much you read and re-read, your content errors still get through. On the web, these errors can be corrected easily enough, but in print . . . that’s another story.

Next time you are tasked with proofreading a document, consider the following tips:

Though proofing requires extreme focus and concentration, it can be boring.
Try something that relieves your mind of the pressure, but allows you to stay focused. This could be chewing gum, tapping your foot, or listening to classical music.

The more familiar something is, the less we tend to notice it.
This is why you can review something 10 times and still not notice that half a sentence is missing.  You expect the sentence to be there. Have someone unfamiliar with your project review and serve as your sanity check.

We tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly.
Know your weak spot. My weak spot is becoming so involved in making sure the language is correct that I often don’t notice that graphic elements (page numbers, headers, footers, logos) are wrong or missing. I need to complete a separate graphics check.

The “source” writer is the worst possible choice to review the work.
“Even a writer or editor who uses a disciplined, structured method to proofread can miss a glaring error because he or she is so close to the work,” according to an InternetTIPs article on proofreading advice. Again, have a disinterested third party review the draft.

Don’t check your work on the screen.
Print a copy and check the work from a printed copy, using strong, natural lighting.  Check for only one type of error at a time. For example, while checking for spelling errors, resist the urge to look for and correct any punctuation errors. Focus on one thing at a time. The same goes for word usage and grammar. These should be separate checks.

Don’t even consider proofreading when you’re tired or stressed.
If you’re distracted or inattentive, you’re wasting your time trying to proofread. I’m the least distracted when I first arrive at work, before I’ve checked email or voicemail. Unless there’s a tight deadline, I’ve started setting aside this time (and this time only) for proofing.

Find a quiet area to reduce distractions.
Tell your co-workers that you are proofing and that you need time and space to concentrate. Again, I find this is best accomplished first thing in the morning before anyone else arrives.[hr]



Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She works for Texas Medical Liability Trust and is a partner with Affynity Web Solutions, a web site development company. Read more of her work at .

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