Proofreading requires focus and concentration – often over protracted periods of time. So, what are the perfect conditions for proofreading?
- Prepare your workspace
It’s the space where you will be spending the majority of your waking hours, so it makes sense to ensure that you’re using a comfortable, ergonomic chair and you’re able to sit with your feet flat on the floor (or a foot rest), your knees at a 90-degree angle, and your arms and eyes level with the keyboard and the monitor respectively.
Neck, hip or back pain as a result of a poorly optimised workspace is no joke, so take some time and review the techniques you can use to ensure you’re comfortable.
- The sound of silence
I prefer to work in complete silence. (My dog is not fully on board with this.) I can sometimes manage to have quiet classical music (or another restful genre) on in the background. I can’t have anything with vocals – I am too tempted to sing along which rather detracts from the words on the page. Decide what is most appropriate to maintain your own state of flow and focus.
You can also actively tune your music selection to improve your focus and concentration. Tim Denning, one of the top writers on Medium and LinkedIn, is a particular fan of using binaural beats while writing.
- Raid the stationery cupboard
There’s something about having the right tools, ready and in the right place. As a minimum, I must have my mechanical pencil and notebook. I use it for scribbling notes of course but the pencil also helpfully doubles up as a pointer to keep me focused on the right part of the text on screen.
I always start a new page of my notebook for each project, so that I can write down key style points, items to come back to and check later, possible queries and key information (e.g. statistics or data that might be mentioned multiple times in the document). This can all be done on screen of course but I find it easier to organise my thoughts on paper first.
- Move often
Evidence shows that excessive sitting can be extremely detrimental to our health, increasing the risk of a wide range of problems, including heart disease, obesity and depression.
Make sure you get up and walk around at least twice an hour. You could set a timer on your phone, or you can employ the Pomodoro technique to not only aid focus but also ensure you take regular breaks.
Longer breaks can also be beneficial. I prefer to proofread in the morning when I feel I’m better able to concentrate; however, if I’m able to take the dog out for an hour or so after lunch I usually find that my energy and concentration levels are fully restored for the afternoon stretch. And sometimes when I’m struggling with a particular piece of copy it helps to sleep on it (if the schedule allows, of course) and come back with fresh eyes in the morning.
- Look after your eyes
Talking of eyes… when I’ve been doing too much proofreading, either on paper or on screen, and not taking enough breaks, it’s usually my eyes that are the first indication (swiftly followed by an overwhelming desire for chocolate). Dry, scratchy and running eyes are often the result, especially if I’ve been working somewhere with air conditioning and not taking breaks outside. Paul’s blog for us about eye health delves deeper.
When you make your living from using your eyes, looking after them properly is a no brainer. Long spells of working on screen can lead to tired eyes, temporary short-sightedness and headaches. The Health and Safety Executive advises taking short, regular breaks, ideally 5–10 minutes per hour. When you take a break, and also periodically while working, try to look at something out of the window or as far into the distance as possible, so that you’re regularly switching between the different muscles in your eyes that control near and far sight.
- Other useful tips
Here’s a selection of other useful tips I’ve picked up over the years:
- Use two screens: Set up your computer with two monitors to increase the space you have for reviewing materials and to avoid having to constantly toggle between your proofs and other windows (such as your search engine for fact checking, or the client’s editorial style guide) on the same screen. (Also, if you’re mainly working on screen, buy the biggest screen – or screens – you can afford.)
- Invest in a tilting or standing desk: This can help when you’re reading on paper and for some people is more comfortable to use with a laptop or PC. I dream of having an office space large enough to accommodate a standing desk – there are a number of clear health benefits associated with having a height-adjustable desk.
- Buy an erasable red pen: If you’re proofreading on paper, these are far and away our team’s favourite item of stationery. No Tippex required.
- Buy a coffee grinder: Because it’s so much nicer if you grind your beans fresh (and grinding the beans and making the coffee is the perfect excuse to take your break away from your desk). Then make sure you have some good herbal tea for the afternoon!