As the resident go-to editor/proofreader/AP Style queen, I spend a lot of time reviewing documents and providing content input on numerous writing projects. I’m a word-nerd and I’m not afraid to admit that proofreading is easily one of my favorite parts of writing — just ask my husband who is tired of me pointing out errors in restaurant menus, store signage and newspaper articles (”…ha ha ha, honey, their pinot ‘compliments’ spicy food…does that pinot really tell the salsa ‘you’re amazing…I love how hot you are…?’”). While it’s nearly impossible for me NOT to proof something, over the years, I’ve adopted some techniques to keep me at the top of my game (which may help others easily correct errors, while looking for grammar issues, like the misuse of homonyms – because if I see “sneak peak” again, I just might explode). Here are a few tips to ensure you’re maximizing your editing and proofing skills:
- First and foremost, before you start, establish if you’re editing or proofreading – there is a distinct difference between the two. Editing ensures that the content and ideas are clear and logical, and that the piece creates a meaningful overall concept. Proofreading comes after editing to ensure accurate spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting. Edit first and proof later – it’s a waste of time to proof content that needs to be rewritten anyway.
- Use spell check, but don’t rely on it. Let it do its job as a first screener, specifically for spelling and minor grammatical errors, but don’t count on it for clarity or to catch typos (which could mean sending your client a “pubic relations” plan).
- Print it out. If you’re reading it onscreen, you’re more likely to glance past a mistake than you are with a hard copy in front of you. So, grab your red pen, go somewhere quiet and focus on READING the document, not just scanning it. Use a blank sheet of paper as a “cover,” and reveal only one sentence at a time – this helps you edit slowly, and encourages you to read more carefully by not getting ahead of yourself.
- Read it out loud. Who cares if your coworkers think you’re talking to yourself, read it loud enough that you hear how what’s written sounds to ensure it makes sense.
- Take a hike! Ok, maybe a short walk, but sometimes stepping away from proofing a document – especially when it’s lengthy – can help reset your focus and make sure you don’t miss anything.
One final thought…don’t let your own ego get in the way. Even if you’re a good writer, recognize that it’s nearly impossible to thoroughly edit and proof your own work. Chances are that somebody will catch the errors and mistakes will most certainly not go unnoticed…but let it be part of the process and not something you have to correct once the document has gone public. While I recommend that you take a first pass to make sure the content is on task and as accurate as possible, let someone else read it from a more objective viewpoint. And, give them a red pen, because as much as it hurts, turnabout is fair play.