Preparing for proofreading:
- Allow yourself enough time to complete the proofreading task.
- If you are pressed for time, make sure you are not interrupted while you proofread.
- Go to the place where you keep your proofreading tools.
- Use your word processor's spell-checking software to locate most of the words that are spelled incorrectly, especially the longer, more complex words. However, don't assume the spell checker has caught all of the misspellings.
- If possible, print the document and proofread the printed copy. If you will not print the document at this time, perform the following procedures at your computer.
- However, if you are preparing the final copy that will be sent to the reader, proofread the final, printed copy that will be sent out.
- Lay the document flat on the desk and sit erect. That makes you tire less easily, but more importantly, it shows your commitment to proofreading with accuracy. It contributes to the proofreading mindset.
- Decide that you are going to go into the proofreading mindset.
- If the document is very interesting to you, don't go into the proofreading mindset until you have read it for pleasure.
- Decide ahead of time what you are looking for.
- Give yourself breaks.
- If you are having trouble following some text, read it aloud. Read the punctuation marks as well as the text.
- Proofread every letter and space on the page, no matter where it falls. Start in the upper left corner of the piece of paper and end in the lower right corner.
- Do not skip around in the manuscript. Follow it sequentially from beginning to end.
- Use a ruler to focus on one line at a time. Draw the ruler down the page. Allow your proofreading, not your hand, to guide the speed of the ruler. Don't move the ruler down until you have finished a line.
- Pronounce larger words that might have hidden problems, and look at every letter in each word.
- If you locate an error, look closely at nearby words. Errors tend to occur in clusters.
- Never correct an error you are not sure about. The worst thing you can do is to introduce errors.
Proofread in stages.
Never proofread by reading a manuscript through only once looking for errors. The mind is not able to process all of the information in a document in one pass. Instead, read every normal, uncomplicated manuscript three times:
Read for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Read again for content errors.
Read a final time for consistency in format, list items, and choice of words.
If the manuscript contains any of the following, read through it once for each characteristic after you have finished the three readings above:
- Statistics, numbers, or dollar amounts. Do a separate statistics proofread.
- Dates, telephone numbers, addresses. Do a separate numbers check. For important dates, telephone numbers, and addresses, look up the original information and compare the records. For advertising copy or direct mail, dial the phone numbers to be sure they are accurate.
- Special formatting. Do a separate check of special formatting to be sure it complies with requirements.
- Headings, numbered lists, sections with titles. Do a separate check of the headings, sequences of numbers, and titles on sections. Check to see whether the stated number of points is present. Check consistency in formatting.
- Tables, charts, graphs. Do a separate accuracy check to be sure the visuals match the originals.
- Cross references. If the manuscript refers to other pages, do a final proofread for cross-references after the manuscript has been printed for the last time.
Use dictionaries and usage handbooks.
Areas where errors are most likely to occur.
Some believe that good proofreaders should be so knowledgeable about the language that they do not need dictionaries or usage handbooks. That is simply not true. Good proofreaders use dictionaries and handbooks more often than mediocre proofreaders do.
Look up every unfamiliar word or word with which you often have problems. Refer to the usage handbook for any use of the language that seems unusual or incorrect to you.
Check these areas where errors are most likely to occur or be missed:
- Captions and titles in tables, graphs, and illustrations
- The first words or paragraph of the document
- The last words or paragraph of the document
- The text break at page breaks
- Titles and running heads
- Titles or other words in all caps
- Words in large type
- Table of contents
- Page numbers
When comparing documents, use the following techniques:
- If anyone else has worked with the document (office assistant, associate, boss), assume that you must compare the revised version with the original. It is not enough for you simply to proofread the document. At the very least, look at important phrases, dates, addresses, dollar amounts, and other numbers.
- If the document requires absolute accuracy with the original, read the document as a team. One person reads the original document aloud while one or more others follow copies of the document.
- If you need to compare two documents by yourself, learn how many words you can read and compare at one time. How many words can you remember long enough to read them in one manuscript and compare with a second? An upper limit is probably eight words. Your limit may be lower. Stay at that word limit. You will develop a rhythm, but don't allow that to cause you to lose concentration.
Computer screen proofreading.
Computers are great aids for proofreaders, but they may also create problems. Follow these guidelines when you are working with a manuscript in a computer file:
- Always prefer to print the manuscript and read a paper copy. Paper copies are easier to read.
- Use the spell checker and grammar checker. However, do not let that reduce the amount of time you spend proofreading the document. Spell checkers and grammar checkers do not locate all errors. (For example, they would not identify any problem with "I cam too sea ewe.") Use them, but do your own proofreading as though you had not used the spell checker and grammar checker.
Set your spell checker to check all words, including capitalized words.
- Check the word divisions at the ends of lines. The word processor does its best to divide words correctly, but does make mistakes.
- If you find errors in the document, correct them, print out a new copy, and proofread again.