Proofreading tips for anyone who deals with written content

Proofreading tips for anyone who deals with written content

Rosie Hayes

Rosie Hayes
16th July 2018

“Strike that, reverse it.” – Willy Wonka, fictional chocolatier/probably good at copy-editing

Proofreading should be like pulling a cotton thread off a beautiful piece of attire ready for its big reveal, not like trying to salvage a shipwreck hoping no one will notice. Good written content goes through a systematic process of checking to make sure that the final piece is up to scratch, and proofreading is the last stage of that journey.

Textual content should be adequately checked by a copy-editor for all potential issues before being sent to a designer or typesetter who will create a proof (a mock-up or how it will appear). It is after this that the text is ready for proofreading, which is essentially a final quality check and tidy up. Proofreading often gets confused with copy-editing, and I usually consider copy-editing to be a more thorough job that encompasses making suggestions to amend content.

Conversely, proofreading should ideally be a minimal task that exists to weed out anything that could have been missed, such as a stray comma or a typo. If you happen to deal with a lot of written content, it would be highly advisable to make sure you have strong writers and copy-editors on board who can add expertise to the actual content.

This ensures that all considerable changes that need to be made are addressed at a suitably early stage in the process, and not left until last minute. Once the pivotal quality-checking has been achieved, then comes the proofreading of a final design proof. No drastic changes should need to be made at the proofreading stage. Here are some tips for proofreading that anyone can follow to make sure that final stage of prepping textual content is perfected:

  • Check what is required of you as a proof-reader by your client if it is not evident
  • Print the document out
  • Check for minor grammatical mistakes
  • Check for typos
  • Check the text line-by-line, and if necessary, word-by-word
  • Check any numbers, page numbers, and headings
  • Check for inconsistencies
  • If it helps, read the text aloud or ask a colleague to read the text aloud
  • Cover the text with a piece of paper or a bookmark and reveal it as you read it
  • Fact-check (documents should be provided/readily available with featured information)
  • Refer to a style guide (if there is one)
  • Refer to some quality proofreading books

Although proofreading is not as mentally intensive as copy-editing or writing, it might also help to find the right environment when carrying out this work. This could be a place at work or at home that is quiet, relaxed, and somewhere unlikely for disturbances to occur.

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