Written by: Fiona Denton
Proofreading. Weather just posting a status update on facebook, submitting your cv for a job, or righting an essay on English language, chances are, you need to brush up on your proofreading skills if you didn’t spot the deliberate mistakes in the above paragraph.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading means going through your text carefully with a fine tooth comb, looking for typographical mistakes and correcting errors in grammar, spelling, and style.
And while the omission of a few apostrophes may not send Facebook into meltdown, it could certainly ruin your chances of bagging a job if your CV needs whitewashing with a bottle of Tippex.
As a professional writer, I know the importance of checking and double checking text, but even then, mistakes can make it past my keen eyes. And, sometimes, we see typos in some of the most prestigious publications, even Harry Potter and the Telegraph Newspaper have the occasional mistake.
But here are a few tips to help you spot errors before anybody else does. Try your best to clean up your work before you hit the ‘send’ button, and here’s hoping you never misplace an apostrophe again.
Learn the rules
Firstly, how can you proofread if you don’t know your apostrophe from your elbow? There are plenty of online guides, or you could refer to Eats, Shoots, and Leaves – a book by author Lynne Truss. This helpful and hilarious guide is ‘the zero tolerance approach to punctuation,’ with over 3 million copies sold. Here you will learn to master commas, apostrophes, semi-colons and dashes – let’s help banish the ‘greengrocers’ apostrophe’ for ever.
The cooling off period
After you finish your work, set aside the text for a few hours or days. You will return back to it with fresh eyes and find glaring errors that weren’t visible at first.
Contractions and apostrophes
It’s amazing how often people mix up there and their, its and it’s, and your and you’re. But you’re never going to make these mistakes again, are you? And that’s because you’ve swotted up like a proper little teacher’s pet, right?
Look for one problem at a time
You know the expression – if you look for trouble, you’ll find it? This applies to proofreading as well. Read through the text several times, concentrating firstly on sentence structure, then word usage, then spelling, then finally, punctuation.
Double double check
Recheck figures, facts and proper names – yes it may be laborious, but it could be the difference between a distinction and a lower grade.
Print it out
There’s something about seeing your work on paper that makes mistakes leap off the page like jumping fleas. Reviewing your work in a different format helps you catch errors you’d usually miss.
Read it aloud
Yes, they say that talking to yourself is a sign of madness, but it’s also a sign of somebody checking their work thoroughly. By reading your work out loud, slowly and deliberately, you can detect even more problems, such as a missing word or syntax error.
Spellchecker is your friend… most of the time
Occasionally, spellchecker can get it wrong – it muddles up meanings and suggests useless alternatives. And for some reason, even the word ‘spellchecker’ is underlined on this document I’m writing. Is it one word or two?
Read it backwards
By reading your work backwards, you will focus on individual words rather than sentence structure – errors up pick to way excellent another.
Ask for help
Invite someone else to proofread your text – a fresh set of eyes could make all the difference.
Concentrating is key
You need a totally quiet environment to proofread. So, switch off distractions, and get rid of potential interruptions. Stay away from your email, turn off your mobile phone, and switch off the TV and radio.
Ignore the grammar checker
The Microsoft Word grammar checker is absolutely hopeless. Even sentences that make perfect sense get underlined with a wavy line, and its suggested corrections are simply baffling. This is where reading aloud is invaluable – your ear is far more adept at picking up mistakes than a computer-generated algorithm.
And finally, break it down
Another top tip to help you proofread carefully.
Press the return key after every full stop, so each line starts a new sentence.
This allows you to view each sentence individually, making it far easier to spot those catastrophic apostrophes, and other such boo-boos.
Although you probably wouldn’t want to do this if you printed your work out, because it will waste paper.
Now let’s get proofreading.