Proofreading tips from a professional proofreader
Whether you’re a professional, or just someone who likes to have your work look polished, we all have to proofread our work. Below are some best practices that I learned in the field.
Edit and proofread separately
If your job requires massaging of text, do not expect yourself to be accurate in your ability to correct grammar and punctuation while you are rewriting the copy. You will need to read through a separate time for your official proofreading marks.
Read line-by-line with a ruler or other straight-edged object
When there is an error in the text—for example, a missing word, or two letters are transposed—our brains will many times automatically fill in the correct information. When you proofread, you have to fight this tendency and consciously work to find the errors. Isolating one line at a time increases the chances that you will find those mistakes in the copy.
Use technology to search for common errors
Use the “find” feature of whatever program you are in to search for common errors. This idea applies to common grammatical and style problems but also terms that are important to your client. Search for the company president’s name to make sure that it is spelled correctly. Search for key terms in your industry to ensure correct punctuation and capitalization. As long as you have the technology, use it to your benefit.
Consistency matters most
This trait is largely what separates professional proofreaders from non-professionals who are good with grammar. Your style should be consistent throughout your document. Make sure that you use the same rules for capitalization, bolding of headlines, and grammar throughout the piece. Do you apply the same style for periods in bullet points? Are you using em and en dashes correctly? Have you made a decision about whether to use the Oxford comma and applied it consistently throughout the document? You should do one read of the document just for consistency … maybe more, depending on how complicated the document is and how many consistency decisions are required.
Tips for professional proofreaders ...
Limit your hours
If you are proofreading, you have to be careful about mental fatigue. At a certain point, you will become your own worst enemy. A proofreader is their own best resource. You may find yourself in a job in which supervisors or freelance clients encourage you to work more than eight or nine hours a day, but longer hours can be dangerous for a proofreader. Working longer hours may only hurt your accuracy, but client/employer expectations will not decrease.
Add fact checking
Clients will not expect you to fact check, but anytime you can correct a fact or notice a misspelled term or name, you are adding value to your service. There will not always be time for this service, but as your budget allows, simply use the internet to verify facts that do not meet your common-sense test. If the client does not have a style guide, create one as you work. Any additional service you can offer adds value to your role.