8 Proofreading Tips And Techniques

By Sharon

Whether you are writing a magazine article, a college essay or an email to a client, getting your text free of mistakes is essential. The spell checker helps, but it is far from foolproof. That is where proofreading comes in. Below you will find 8 tips and techniques to make your proofreading sessions more effective.

1. Concentration is Key

If you’re going to spot mistakes, then you need to concentrate. That means getting rid of distractions and potential interruptions. Switch off the cell phone, turn off the television or radio and stay away from the email.

2. Put It On Paper

People read differently on screen and on paper, so print out a copy of your writing. If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eye may have missed.

3. Watch Out for Homonyms

Homonyms are words that share the same spelling or pronunciation, but have different meanings. Switching accept with except or complement with compliment could be disastrous, so pay attention to them.

4. Watch Out for Contractions and Apostrophes

People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. If there is something that can hurt the credibility of your text, it is a similar mistake. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.

5. Check the Punctuation

Focusing on the words is good, but do not neglect the punctuation. Pay attention to capitalized words, missing or extra commas, periods used incorrectly and so on.

6. Read it Backwards

When writing we usually become blind to our own mistakes since the brain automatically “corrects” wrong words inside sentences. In order to break this pattern you can read the text backwards, word by word.

7. Check the Numbers

Stating that the value of an acquisition was $10,000 instead of $100,000 is definitely not the same thing. What about the population of China, is it 1,2 million or 1,2 billion? Make sure your numbers are correct.

8. Get Someone Else to Proofread It

After checking all the previous points, do not forget to get a friend to proofread it for you. You will be amazed at the mistakes you’ve missed. A second person will also be in a better position to evaluate whether the sentences make sense or not.

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46 Responses to “8 Proofreading Tips And Techniques”

  • reinkefj

    I use a different font. It looks different and stuff seems to jump out.

    Then, I tell Word to push the view to 150%.

    Finally, I cut ‘n’ paste it into something with a different spell / grammar checker for a different view.

    Last, if it’s really important, I have my wife read it. She wrecks it. ANd I start over.

    :-)

  • Roshawn

    Excellent post.

    I didn’t expect to learn that reading backwards is considered a proofreading technique. Never heard such a thing in any writing book. Whatever helps, I guess. :)

  • MatthewF

    On reading it backwards, the trick that I was once taught was to print it out and then turn the paper upside down and read it normally. Because your brain has to figure out every single word, mistakes stick out like sore thumbs. Works like a charm.

  • majeed

    What does TNR stand for?

  • Scott

    Great post.

    Unlike all you “Leonardo Da Vincis” reading upside-down, in mirrors, etc, ( 😉 ) I find that one of the best proofreading tricks is to have someone read my writing back to me. Sometimes the best way to spot flaws in your writing is to have it read in another “voice.”

  • Sharon

    Thanks for adding your tips. There are a lot of techniques to help us catch mistakes by making the brain work harder. I’m glad to have a few more to add to the list.

  • Dean @ Technical Itch

    Reading backwards in a new one on me. I’ll give that a go next time I write a lengthy article.

  • Thilak

    Neat tips, I usually draft all my blog posts and read it out loud. As per your tip, I tried reading backwards, but it only helps you to fix spelling errors, not grammatical errors or am I wrong?

  • Sharon

    Yes, you’re right, Thilak, but another proofreading tip is to check for one type of error at a time, so you can use this technique to check spelling and other techniques to check grammar.

  • pelf

    I tend to have a certain degree of proofreading skills because I always seem to catch mistakes that other people can’t see. I like to think that it’s a gift, LOL.

  • Jen / domestika

    Good list! Reading backwards and reading out loud are the two most important tips that I give new authors when working with them on page proofs. Some people tend to read too quickly to proofread effectively, and in those cases I suggest moving your finger along under each word as you read — the physical action helps to keep the eyes from racing ahead of the brain.

  • Sharon

    It’s a great skill to have, Pelf. Ever thought of working as a sub-editor?

  • Sharon

    It’s like learning to read all over again, isn’t it, Jen? Proofreading is a slow and steady activity, rather than a race to find mistakes, at least for me.

  • pelf

    @Sharon: I am still a student at the moment, and I work part-time for a Malaysian English daily. But I’ve taken up offers to edit other students’ theses before they submit them to their respective Supervisors.

    I don’t charge them of course (because they were also students, now they have graduated), but we did go out for dinner :)

  • H Devaraja Rao, Bangalore, India

    Read the copy aloud
    to see how it sounds and to catch errors. The written word is considerably different from the spoken word. The ear is a powerful copyediting tool.

  • Michael

    I have text-to-speech software on my computer, similar to the screen readers that the blind use, that can speak my document back to me when I’m editing and proofreading. Admittedly, the voices are slightly unnatural, but this way I can listen as often as I want, even when no one else is around.

  • Jeff Chavez

    Yet another great post that I needed to add to my blog!

    http://northstarthinktank.typepad.com/northstar_thinktank/2007/04/marketing_an_ev.html

  • WFU

    I enjoyed these tips and even wrote a post on my blog about it. I hope that you keep coming up with great ideas.

  • Ayub

    Thanks for beautiful and targeted advise, its really good and work, I am going through in learning process. I do many mistakes in reports writing specailly to the boss, I always hasitant to write report. but now I am trying to do good with your help. I’ve been visiting your web site for learning fast. thanks.

  • Sharon

    Glad you enjoyed the tips, Ayub and thanks for the links WFU and Jeff.

  • Ron

    Buy a $20 hand recorder. Read your prose into the recorder and, then, listen. Do this and you will not only proofread both your grammar and punctuation but also your persuasion.

  • Sharon

    Reading your writing back is always useful, Ron, and hearing how it sounds is just as useful. Good tip.

  • Hussain Shah

    I had been searching for tips regarding proofreading which I ultimately found in daily writing tips. I am an editor of our newsletter and sometimes my boss pinpointed the mistakes that i actually missed because of being blind to my own words. I hope from now on my text would be having as little mistakes as possible.

    Human Development Foundation Pakistan

  • cmdweb

    Another good, short article. Thanks. Not sure about the reading backwards tip? – maybe it’s a way of clearing your brain? – very important to do before you proofread. I tend to take an hour or two on something else as a minimum before going back over my work.
    Homonyms/homophones do seem to catch a lot of people out and they’re well worth reading up on.

  • PreciseEdit

    Here’s our process at Precise Edit:
    1. Person A performs an on-screen copyedit (proofreading) to catch most mistakes.
    2. Person B performs an on-paper copyedit, usually reading aloud
    3. Person A (or Person C) performs a second on-paper copyedit, usually reading aloud. (This is the quality control step.)

    This is a tedious and intense process, but our goal is to leave no more than 1 mistake in 50 pages.

    One aspect that makes this proofreading difficult is the tendency to become engaged in the content, which will hinder one’s ability to focus on the mechanics.

    On the other hand, since writing and proofreading require very different skills, many writers should consider hiring out that part of the process so they can concentrate on the part they do well: writing. An outside proofreader will be less likely to “fill in the blanks” or unconsciously correct errors.

    This is an issue that affects nearly every writer. I suspect that we’ll see this topic come up in our new writing forums, too.

  • Santhosh Reddy

    It is true that our mind fills up the gaps and also misses the errors in our writing especially when we tend to read the same piece often.

    Reading what we have written aloud and backwards definitely help in proofing the post. I would like to add that taking a break after writing a post or article helps as you tend to be more alert.

  • Mark

    Substitutions word and errors spelling catching for helpful very be can backwards reading, yes.
    >:)

  • Nik Edmiidz

    It’s like what Scott said above, ‘hav[ing] someone read my writing back to me’. I would add “someTHING”.

    I find TTS (text-to-speech) software the most effective way to proofread.

    Having the errors hit your ears, can help you find them in just one listen, which would often take two or three attempts using the above “eye-centered” techniques. I think grammar mistakes and missing words are much more common than the homophone-errors stated above. Granted TTS software does not help with proofreading homophones by itself. However reading along the TTS software (with your eyes) helps get those too.
    I have found typos in CNN and ebooks galore with this. They never escape my ear…. Same thing with number mistakes… when you hear that China has a population of 1.2 million, it sounds much more absurd, than when your eye glances over it, and you just forgive yourself with an attitude of “I meant to say”….

  • arul

    i personally admire of this site because lot of information i got from this

  • Sanober

    ive recently appointed for a job that requires me to proofread texts.. its so iritaing to read the whole text again and again but the points mentioned on top are very useful.. will keep in mind while working..and i always let my Boss read the material again..it always has new mistakes..

  • Pro-Vamsi

    Great tips mate!!
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!

  • Jonathan

    I’m just getting started. I’ve decided that I’m going to be a proofreader. I’ve always been good at English in school. I was the guy who always won the spelling bees, much to the dismay of the girls. I have ordered the book,”Proofreading for Dummies”. I am thinking of taking a proofreading online course. I’m brushing up on my english and grammar. I need practical input from proofreaders about the best way to advance. I want to be an excellent proofreader-no, I will be an excellent proofreader. Well, proofs-how do I proceed?

  • Sara

    I love posts like these – mostly for the comments. We all go about proofreading with our own unique twists. Great inspiration.

    I use the tried and true method: read it out loud.

  • dudette

    HAHAHAHA LOL! jk jk, you’re totally right! I completely agree and i use those techniques all the time, though i didn’t need to read the blog to figure them out.

  • Donald Smith

    Writing has never been my best subject, but I do proofread
    everything that I write.

    Thanks to all of you, I now have several ways to proofread and find mistakes that I may have missed.

  • miranda kennedy

    It’s 1.2 not 1,2 billion in the Check the Numbers paragraph. Guess, they needed a proof reader too.

  • Mark

    Now Microsoft Anna on Window 7 and Vista can read text out loud, her voice is clear and natural, she can be your proofreader. All your need is install a text to speech ( TTS ) software program on your desktop or laptop. There are free TTTS programs. For Linux user, Festival is a free TTS program. For Windows user, Panopreter Basic is one of the best free TTS tool.

  • Alexia

    I subscribed for a grammar e-book within 24 hours but all I got after several weeks was lots of emails in my box.

  • Vishal Srivastava

    A wonderful article. I always wanted to write and recently started my blog to follow my writing passion but what i generally do is, i type my article, click the post button and my articles are reached between users in this digital world. After reading this article i decided to proof read my all articles and you know i got about 30 mistakes in each article and the mostly are the type 4 you mentioned i.e. Apostrophe and contraction. Thanks a lot your blog is simply the best and will surely help me in long run of writing .

  • Harnam Singh

    A treasure of information on mistakes in various types of writing.
    Now I feel I am not alone in the world who makes such mistakes.
    Most of the mistakes occur while typing – small 2 stroke or 3 stroke words are missed out – becuase the minding is thinking in advance on ideas to be put in writing. Though I have been working in English language for the last 28+ years, still some mistake do creep in. I made some silly mistakes in some of my Resumes which were never responded. Many a times when I happen to read my own correspondence/notings/writing, after time lapse I find some typo.

    The best solution is that somebody else should do proof reading.

    Second best thing is leave the writing aside for some time and read it with a fresh minding so that you don’t “read” what is in your mind but what is actually written.

    Third solution is to have a print of the matter and run a sharpened pointed pencil on the words as you read. This surely brings out the missing words.

    Thanking for giving valuable advice on the subject. My techniques will also surely help others.

  • rakesh

    Its very useful to me…..

    Thanks to all of you, I now have several ways to proofread and find mistakes that I may have missed.

  • Eglon

    Some of the things we know they can be forgoten, but revising them is the best technic to recall whatever you know.

  • Mark Roth

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/10-rules-for-writing-numbers-and-numerals/ — See Rule 2 and Rule 5. 😉

    Thanks for these eight tips and techniques!

    Number 8 looks…ah…challenging. 😀

  • T Mo

    One thing I cannot do is give my CV to anyone else to look at, let alone read it to them or have them read it back it to me. To do this I would have to subconsciously edit it to avoid generating any unwanted reaction or judgment on their part. In that way my CV would be less suited for its real purpose: attracting a potential employer.

  • Miriam Michalski

    I was taught to proofread by skipping from the right side of the page to the left side of the page, which I suppose is similar to reading backwards. You really do notice mistakes you wouldn’t catch otherwise. My proofreading tip is: I also find that Spellcheck not only does not catch everything (if “their” is a correct word in general, it does NOT catch it if used incorrectly in a sentence when it should have been “there” or “they’re”). In addition, it is sometimes altogether wrong. I have caught it many a time, telling me to change some subject-verb agreement to the wrong combination. Beware Spellcheck, it can cause more harm than good!

  • Amy Laird

    Good Stuff Jayne! Thanks for the reminder on proofing best practices. It matters how we present ourselves.

    Regards,
    Amy

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