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The Perils of Proofreading

While content is king, the way the work looks – whether a printed page or a web page — has a huge influence on the way it will be judged. It’s a colossal waste to let careless errors distract the reader from getting the message. That’s why it’s worth taking the time needed to proofread and then proofread again — after corrections have been made.

Good intentions come up short.

Most writers spare just a few minutes to proofreading, hoping they’ll catch errors – expecting them to jump from the page. Unfortunately, that superficial reading, especially after you’ve just finished writing the very same piece, misses so much.

What is needed is a plan that helps you efficiently identify errors. Yes, this takes extra time, but the end result will be vastly improved. It also helps make the initial writing phase more pleasant when an effective way to find errors is ready to employ when the writing is finished.

To begin, editing and proofreading are two distinct processes. When editing, don’t even think about punctuation, grammar, and spelling. To do so would mean that you’re not focused on the task of editing.

Proofreading strategies that prove effective
Do not make the mistake of counting on spell-checkers.

While they are somewhat useful as a first step, they are notorious for having a limited dictionary. Or worse, they often skip over words or sections written in all CAPS. Plus they can’t distinguish the difference between two, to, and too. The wrong word spelled correctly still looks bad.

Grammar checkers are also of limited value. Grammar algorithms are not able to identify every error and often make mistakes. Use of a grammar checker can help identify run-on sentences or too-frequent use of words, but not much more.

Proofread for one category of error at a time. Attempting to identify and revise too many things at once can cause errors to slip by as your brain becomes overwhelmed. For example: it’s easier to catch grammar errors if punctuation and spelling can be “put on hold.”

Circle each and every punctuation mark. This makes you slow down and consider each punctuation mark individually.

Read backwards starting from the end. This works for spelling errors but is of little help for content, punctuation, and grammar.

Try reading the text out loud. The idea behind this technique is to slow down the pace of work and give it more thought. When you read sentences, it is too easy to miss errors because your mind is programmed to be “helpful” and let you read faster.

Keep your resources close at hand.
This is where handbooks and dictionaries come in. Many companies also will have specific standards and guidelines that must be followed. This additional layer of diligence will, of course, add to the workload and time, yet it must be done. There are no shortcuts.

When in doubt, look it up.
Your schoolteacher used to tell you, the answer is not in your head. Don’t hesitate to refer to whatever or whomever may have the answer. Don’t be afraid to admit you need assistance. Remember, the end result represents the company or the author. And in today’s competitive business environment, every advantage can lead to success.

Special thanks to The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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