Simple steps to level up your ability to proofread your own work to ensure clear and consistent communication.
I’ve been proofreading for 20 years. It’s a painstaking, tedious, but necessary – and often overlooked – part of the publishing process.
Everyone wants to be a writer and get the glory; editors have all the fun pulling text apart and putting it back together again, even better this time. I expect that not many careers officers hear the words, “I dream of being a proofreader.”
Learning proofreading skills, however, can be useful to give your own writing that extra polish and quality, allowing the content to shine like a diamond with no distractions.
Of course, in an ideal world, you would be able to have every piece of copy you write professionally proofread… but the reality is that there are lots of instances when either time or budget simply doesn’t allow for this. Additionally, there are shorter pieces of copy that you write on a daily basis that need to be accurate but to get a professional proofreader involved would be overkill (for example, emails, internal documents, etc.).
So, how can you make your writing consistently accurate, to ensure you are communicating clearly and concisely on a day-to-day basis?
Here are five simple ways you can improve your ability to proofread your own writing when necessary:
- Intentionally expand your vocabulary
Have a vocabulary notebook (physical or digital – whichever you prefer) and make a note of any new or interesting words you come across, especially those that are particularly relevant to your specific industry or project. Make sure you understand their precise meaning and usage.
It’s particularly important to practise words that are often misused, such as comprise/compose, bring/take, lie/lay, adverse/averse, dichotomy/discrepancy and many more…
Subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day – and make a commitment to use the word of the day, every day!
- Learn commonly misspelled words
Having a ‘cheat sheet’ of commonly misspelled words – either in your head or saved somewhere in hard copy – means you can speed up the proofreading process by using ‘Find and Replace’ to eliminate these errors.
Start by keeping your eagle eyes out for the following offenders:
- its, it’s
- in, if, it
- on, of, or
- be, by
- that, than, then, they
… all the way through to publicly, millennium, acquaintance, restaurant, perseverance, minuscule, rhythm and harassment.
Using these words correctly ensures your writing will come across as professional and precise.
- Read widely and deeply
Reading in different formats and thinking about different target readerships will help you proofread your own writing effectively. Compare for example a young adult novel, a literary magazine and a blog post. The language, tone, and visual layout will be different for each one.
When you’re proofreading your writing, you should always keep the intended readership in mind when reviewing text – whether it’s an email to the rest of your team or a report for the leadership in your business.
- Work in a peaceful environment
Minimise distraction wherever possible. Proofreading is focused work. I work in silence and I either turn off Wi-Fi completely or close any extraneous windows on my desktop. Ideally, I will leave my phone in a different room or set it to ‘Do Not Disturb’. You should situate yourself in a place where you won’t be interrupted.
Some people find that quiet music helps them to focus. I recommend avoiding anything with lyrics – I’m a sing-along kind of person, so I engage with song lyrics (even at a very low volume, and especially if the music is familiar) which distracts me from the words on the page.
- Allow enough time to focus
It is foolhardy to rush proofreading — the more time you are able to devote to the process, the better the result will be.
If you find yourself skimming your writing rather than taking the time to read each word, it might help you to read your text twice, or deliberately slow yourself down by sounding the words out loud to yourself.
So, by following these five simple steps, you will find you’re better able to proofread your own writing when engaging the services of a professional proofreader isn’t feasible:
- Make a daily commitment to expand your vocabulary – it only takes 5 minutes a day to learn and practise a new word.
- Compile a cheat sheet of commonly misspelled words.
- Read as much as you can – in as many areas as you can.
- Avoid distraction and maintain a calm, peaceful working environment.
- Give yourself plenty of time.
If you are looking for professional proofreading support for an upcoming project, we offer bespoke proofreading services for clients. You can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how we can help.