Proofreading is tough! It takes time, patience and (I believe) a specific set of skills but your credibility is compromised every time an error sneaks past you. This week’s guest blog post is by professional proofreader, editor and copywriter Trish Arnott of Spell-Bound Services.
It’s well worth your while to employ a proofreader; it’s hard to pick up errors in your own work. However, if you choose to proofread your copy yourself, then here is a systematic way to go about it.
Step 1: Read every word syllable by syllable.
This is the most important step as it’s when you’ll find you’ve written ‘enquires’, not ‘enquiries’ or ‘destintion’ instead of ‘destination’, or used ‘to’ when you should have used ‘too’. You’ll also notice if you’ve used a pesky preposition twice, or doubled up on a sentence or phrase when you copied and pasted.
Many of us self-correct when we read our own work but reading syllable by syllable will stop you from doing just that.
Step 2: Expand acronyms and contractions.
Whatever it is, spell it out in full, followed by the acronym in brackets if you use it again; for example, Australian Taxation Office (ATO). It’s also a good idea to expand ‘e.g.’, ‘i.e.’ and ‘etc’. The two former are confused often but they won’t be if you write ‘for example’ and ‘that is’. Try to avoid using ampersands (&). Copy that’s peppered with ampersands just looks cheap.
Step 3: Remove (most) adverbs, adjectives, jargon and ‘buzz words’.
This step is more for copywriters and editors but a good proofreader wears more than one hat. Use descriptive adverbs or adjectives only when the noun or verb really needs to be qualified for sense. Most copy is improved when you remove the flowery stuff and industry jargon.
Most buzz words and phrases (‘passionate’, ‘proactive’, ‘moving forward’, ‘effective’ or ‘dynamic’, to quote a few) are overused to the point where they are meaningless so use alternatives.
Step 4: Check that your copy makes sense.
It’s easy to ramble when you’re familiar with a topic but you should read the copy from the perspective of your target audience. Will complete newcomers to the topic understand what you’re trying to tell them?
There’s much more to proofreading than simply picking up spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Good proofreaders have general knowledge of a wide range of topics and industries. They’ll pick up clangers such as an article about the Indonesian Rupiah linked to the main article about the Indian Rupee, or recognise that Mr Mujherejee should be Mr Mukherjee. However, if you follow the four-step system, you’ll pick up any flaws (and learn to avoid those mistakes in the future).
Of course, if proofing your own work seems too hard (or you just don’t have the time), you can always call Trish!