How to Proof-read Effectively
edited: Friday, September 12, 2003
By Brenda Townsend Hall
Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003
Become a Fan
Some tips to help you sharpen your proof-reading skills
A written document is a permanent record and if it contains errors and inconsistencies, it will create a poor impression. Before you send out any document you should take the time to check it thoroughly.
1. Proof-reading is a different activity from reading. You need to concentrate and work slowly.
2. It is often better to ask someone else to check a document you have written because the writer often sees what he or she thinks was written rather than what is actually on the page.
3. Never try to proof-read on the screen. You can easily forget to save your corrections. It is also much easier to miss errors on the screen so work from hard-copy.
4. Try to leave some time before writing a document and checking it so you can approach it with a fresh eye.
5. You will need a method of working that helps you to examine each word, each punctuation mark, even each space, separately. An effective way of doing this is to take a ruler and place it under the line of print you are working on. Moving the ruler down, line by line, helps you to focus more accurately.
6. Don't think you can rely on your software spell-checker. This can tell you only if a word is wrongly spelt, but not if it is the correct word for the context: e.g. bear/bare.
7. On the other hand, do set your spell-checker to the correct English language standard as British and American spellings, for example, are different.
8. If you wish to obtain work as a proof-reader you will need to learn how to mark the alterations in the margins of texts using the appropriate proof-marks.
9. Have someone read the document aloud to you or use software such as ReadPlease (www.readplease.com) so that your computer can read the text to you. This really helps you to spot errors.
10. Here is a list of some of the most common mistakes in documents:
Check that singular subjects have singular verbs, likewise with plurals. Possessive pronouns should agree in gender and number.
Grammatical words such as prepositions or articles can easily be omitted, read each line aloud to help you spot any missing words.
Easily confused words
Always check that you have the correct version of the word for the context, e.g. principal (adjective) and principle (noun) are often confused.
These can be difficult to spot, especially if the result is an acceptable word, e.g. casual/causal.
Punctuation Missing commas, full stops etc., are hard to spot. Check the end of every sentence. Ensure extra punctuation has not appeared (e.g. headings are not usually followed by full stops).
Look at spaces as well as characters. Spaces above and below headings should be consistent. Indents should be uniform.
It is easy to miss errors in headings and running heads because you are concentrating on the text. Take special care to pay attention to headings therefore. Capitalization may be wrong, words may be missing or wrongly spelt; centered headings may be off center.
Sometimes letters or words are the wrong size or in the wrong type face. Check for consistent use of bold letters or italics.