Document Proofreading Made Easy
Document proofreading is a step in the writing process that simply cannot be ignored. What is the true cost of high-quality content? Well, that can vary as it depends on the type of document. But one thing we do know is how expensive (and potentially embarrassing) it is to realise too late a copy mistake in your document. Rewrites can cost you money, time and dignity.
Like a dull knife being more dangerous than a sharp one, it’s worth refining your copy with the right tools from the get-go, using editing and proofreading.
These steps in your production process are more than just spellchecking and formatting. Contrary to widespread belief, proper revision requires essential skills and a keen eye. Here are some insights and tips from our experts to help you on your editing and proofreading journey.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the exercise of carefully examining and reviewing the final draft of a piece of writing. This process ensures the consistency, accuracy and correction of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Style of writing is also considered here, but if there are too many changes in the proofreading phase, one may need to take a step back and revisit the editing stage.
By the time you are proofreading, it is assumed that the document has been thoroughly edited. Popular document types we often find ourselves checking with our dandy red pen (or digital change tracker) include academic papers, job applications, online or print articles, presentations, marketing material, and any text in the publishing industry.
According to writer, Shona McCombes, “In the publishing industry, proofreaders usually check a printed “proof copy” of the text and mark corrections using specialised proofreading marks. In other fields, though, professional proofreaders often work with digital texts and make corrections directly using the ‘track changes’ feature in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.”
Proofreading and editing works together
Even though they are close together in the process, they are not the same. But these two steps will determine how the reader perceives the writer’s authority and credibility.
Editing requires the writer to be critical in their own writing.
- Does the piece make sense? Is it strategically answering the question or objective it set out to do?
- Is there a proper flow of information or are there parts that can be swopped around?
- Have the facts been checked and referenced where needed?
- Are there any repeats or patterns spotted? “Personal patterns: All writers make mistakes that are typical of their writing. If you always forget commas, check for commas. If you always have trouble with transitions, look for transitions. If you work on wordiness, look for this.” – Staff writer at Gustavus College.
- Is the overall structure of the piece stable and engaging?
Once the final edit has been completed, the document can be reviewed and revised by proofreading. This is where you do a final sweep and read the paper as a reader. It’s the time to spot any silly mistakes that could have been caused by a computer error, carelessness or oversight, and perhaps just fatigue.
Most writers read their own work so fast and often, their brain auto-fills in the blanks where copy may not be. In their minds the sentences are correct.
Enter, a fresh pair of eyes.
Steps to make proofreading easy
Depending on the level of importance of your document (in our eye,s all text is sacred), you may want to first consider a certified copyeditor or professional proofreader to turn your rough draft into a professional and acclaimed piece.
But, if you need to proofread your own work, here are handy tips to keep your copy lean and clean.
Space out the time of your last edit and your first proofread.
When you don’t have another set of fresh eyes to read the work for the first time, you must allow the piece to be closed for at least half a day (the longer you wait the better), before you open it again and re-read it.
Hard copy works better when proofreading
There is nothing better than old school pen and paper. Actively tracking each word with a pen in hand forces the reader to consume the piece in detail and make corrections clearly.
If a professional proofreader is reviewing your piece or you are reviewing someone else’s piece, you may want to have a proofreading marks and symbols guide ready to help you indicate the instructions efficiently.
But digital is still an option
For many, the option to print out a hard copy is not viable and that is fine too. There are tools on Word that can check, highlight and improve the writer’s work. It’s just a matter of making sure the functions are on.
- For PCs: in Word, click ‘File’, ‘Options’, ‘Proofing’, ‘When correcting spelling and grammar in Word’, ‘Settings’ and tick your chosen options.
- For Macs: in Word, click ‘Word’, ‘Preferences’, ‘Spelling and Grammar’, ‘Settings’ and tick your chosen options.
There is even a ‘Read Aloud’ function under the ‘Review’ bar that will put your copy to the test as you can hear where the copy doesn’t sound right. Then you can pause, correct and continue.
According to writer and trainer, Lorraine Forrest-Turner, “Another advantage of screen reading is the ability to change ‘over familiar’ text easily.” She advises to blow up the text, bold and colour parts and even copy it over onto other types of documents. Seeing your copy on a different layout may also reveal hidden grammar or spelling mistakes.
Know your writing mistakes
As mentioned before, writers tend to have copy habits or personal patterns that are hard to shake. Like any bad habit, the first step is admittance. Make a list of common errors to look out for, then you can sift through the piece with these potential issues at the top of your mind.
Typical errors found when proofreading a document
By the time you’ve hit the last full stop on a written piece, your brain has dealt its cards, splashed out all the paint on the canvas, and is ready to take a step back and observe the outcome. Here, is where the typical errors of proofreading occur – our brains are not geared to immediately notice minute details.
Therefore, add these common errors to your checklist because they may not always be picked up by the programme:
Apostrophe: these are used to show possession (belonging to something) and contraction (missing letters). Common examples include:
- I am – I'm
- You are – You're
- She is – She's
- It is – It's VS its
- Do not – Don't
Homophones: words that have the same sound but different meaning. Both can be spelt correctly, which makes it sometimes hard to spot. Commonly overlooked homophones:
Make sure to double check the format of your headings, dates, numbers, symbols, tense, American or British English, and overall layout is consistent.
At the end of the day, you need to play the role of reader rather than writer, and that you use these strategies to help you slow down and examine your writing. If you require professional assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
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