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Effective proofreading

Proofreading is a final check on a piece of finished work, so make sure you don’t start before you’ve, well, finished. Publishing houses send their proofs out to specialist proofreaders, but if you are proofing your own work, you need to trick your eyes into reading afresh. Here are three ways to do that.

1 Use computer checking tools

The more mistakes your computer spots, the fewer your eyes have to seek out. Run the grammar and spell-check, but be wary—they are not perfect, and some favour US over British English. Use the find/replace tool as well. This is especially useful for little errors, such as accidental double spaces, and style choices such as -ise versus – ize. But be careful about making global changes: you don’t want to replace ‘size’ with ‘sise’ throughout.

2 Read backwards

proofreading on paper
Image credit: 123RF photos

Reading and proofing are very different activities. If you read in the ordinary way, little errors will slip past you. Try starting with the last page, reading it from top to bottom, as normal. This helps you to maintain focus on the words themselves rather than the overall meaning of the text. It allows you to concentrate on spelling, punctuation and consistency.

3 Use a sheet of paper to mask the next line

This technique makes the line you are currently proofing stand out. Like reading backwards, it forces you to concentrate on the words rather than the meaning. It’s a constant reminder that you are not reading, but doing the specialist task of proofreading.

James McConnachie
18 November 2021

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