Writing tip: Stage 5 of your editing system—proofread


Proofreading can be regarded as Stage 5 of your editing process. This is a very difficult and demanding task that requires strong concentration.

The proofreader assumes that all the big things in a document are correct.

Like editing, proofreading is best done in several stages. For example, don't try to check spelling and grammar at the same time as checking page numbers or alignment.

If you proofread often, it may be worth learning the main proofreading symbols: this can speed the task. But the main thing is to make your meaning absolutely clear.

Your job is to impose consistency and correctness on:

  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • format
  • grammar.

First print out the document with generous line spacing and margins. Mark the errors clearly on the page.

Remember that proofreading is extremely demanding, highly unnatural work. In real life your goal is to read quickly and read for meaning—but when proofreading, you do the opposite. You slow down and focus on petty things like commas.

In a perfect world you would do the following. Go to another room. The board room... an interview room... somewhere away from the phones. Clear the desk, except for:

  • a highlighter, sharp pencil, rubber, ruler and sticky memo pad
  • your in-house style guide
  • a modern dictionary (the one nominated in your style guide)
  • a proofreading checklist: see below
  • a blank piece of paper to use as a style sheet.

Here are two useful ways to slow down your reading and concentrate on detail.

  • Cover the page with a sheet of paper, revealing one line at a time.
  • Read the text aloud, slowly, just two or three words at a time.

Items not linked to technology:

  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • grammar
  • repetition
  • missing lines or words
  • incorrect numbers.

Items linked to technology
Highlight anything wrong or strange; these problems are likely the result of bad use of Styles or other technology.

  • fonts
  • alignment
  • line spacing
  • margins
  • bad line breaks
  • bad page breaks.

When you have finished proofreading, your editing job is done.





Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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