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Richard Nordquist

Ten Tips for Almost Perfect Proofreading

By March 23, 2009

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I was feeling like a proud papa the day I shared a copy of my new textbook with a colleague. For more than two years, supported by project editors, graphic designers, marketers, and copy editors, I'd fussed over every word in that book. By now, it had to be perfect.

Beaming immodestly, I watched as my friend skimmed the table of contents, riffled through the pages, glanced at the front and back covers--and then frowned.

"College," he said, handing the book back to me. "Back cover. College is misspelled."

And so it was. In small print at the end of a blurb right smack in the middle of the back cover, the word college was spelled with just one l.

It was a long time before I could focus on anything contained in the 457 pages of that textbook. Every time I picked it up all I could see was the word colege on the back cover. It may have been printed in 10-point type, but to me the misspelled word stood a mile high in clownish neon.

Of course, I eventually got over my anger, frustration, embarrassment, and despair--about six months later when the error was corrected in the second printing. But along the way I had learned a valuable lesson about proofreading: no matter how thoroughly we examine a text, it seems there's always one more little blunder waiting to be discovered.

In other words, there's no foolproof formula for perfect proofreading every time. It's just too tempting to see what we intended to write rather than the words that actually appear on the page or screen. Still, the goal of perfection is worth pursuing, and in that spirit I offer these 10 tips to help you see (or hear) your errors before anybody else does.


For the complete article, go to Top Ten Proofreading Tips: How to Proofread Effectively.


Comments

March 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm
(1) Nancy Henson says:

Another common error in today’s punctuation is that writers still think that typing two spaces after a period is the accepted format. With computers, the correct spacing (one space) is preferred.

March 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm
(2) Linda says:

Use the grammar checker to help identify those cases where a word is spelled correctly but not used correctly, such as “Their coming over here tonight.” Spell checking would find nothing wrong with this sentence but grammar checking will point this out as incorrect.

March 23, 2009 at 6:06 pm
(3) Glenn Charles says:

The most important thing to remember, and the most difficult–is that proofreading is first and foremost not reading. At the moment you begin reading the script (of whatever sort), you’ve abandoned concentration on the venue–from that of grammar to that of punctuation, spelling and of course the infamous its/it’s conundrum bound at some time to capture all.
…Glenn

March 23, 2009 at 6:50 pm
(4) Linda G says:

When reading comments on cases at work-several times I was very disturbed when I read my comments. I could not belive that I typed with so many errors. Typing too fast and bad spelling are a nighmare. So when I read the notes on how to improve-I relized I was not the only person that had the problem. Thanks!

March 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm
(5) Mary Hallwachs says:

If you are proofreading someone else’s manuscript, skim through it first, then go back and read for errors. I have found myself getting so interested in the plot/subject that I don’t notice errors and have to go back and read it twice anyway.

March 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm
(6) Mary Hallwachs says:

If you are proofreading someone else’s manuscript, skim through it first, then go back and read for errors. I have found myself getting so interested in the plot/subject that I don’t notice errors and have to go back and read it twice anyway.

March 23, 2009 at 9:09 pm
(7) Timothy Hadley says:

To be a good proofreader, one needs an excellent command of grammar, mechanics, syntax, and usage. The sad fact is that many, if not most, copyeditors/proofreaders working today, even at major publishing houses, don’t have these skills.

March 26, 2009 at 9:18 pm
(8) Sharon says:

Hold on here a minute. Who changes the rules of grammar. Responder #1 – Linda. Since when did the 2 spaces after a period become 1 space. I see comments like this often and wonder… are you just making that up because it is convenient for you… and by making the comment and having it travel around the world 1000s of times in an hour, suddenly everyone starts quoting you. Who “makes the rules”? What authoritative reference can we rely on before we have “creative grammar” as the norm?

March 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm
(9) Sharon again says:

Talk about proofreading… my last comment referenced Linda instead of #1 Nancy.

March 30, 2009 at 10:55 am
(10) MaryHazel says:

I find that tips 4 and 5 work best for me. I find the greatest number errors that way. I have found though that I must get away from my desk to have it work, otherwise I am tempted to open the document and make the correction immediately.

March 30, 2009 at 11:28 am
(11) Levi Bookin says:

I think that we are talking about copy editing rather than proofreading, which comes at a later stage.

I am an author, copy editor, and proofreader. But I never attempt to edit or proof what I have written. I give it to somebody else because it is more difficult to spot one’s own errors.

March 30, 2009 at 11:30 am
(12) Alan Lee says:

Re: the number of spaces after a period

When I took a typing class 40 years ago, I was taught to put 2 spaces after a period. But times change and so has my typing…

Here are two authoritative references that say there should be one space:

Section 2.12 of the Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition) says “A single character space, not two spaces, should be left after periods at the ends of sentences (both in manuscript and in final, published form) and after colons.”

The “Period” entry in the Punctuation section of The Associated Press Stylebook (2006) says “SPACING: Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

March 30, 2009 at 11:58 pm
(13) Philip Joshua says:

Proofreading the text in a different physical space helps.I finally proofread our in-house journal at home rather than at office.

March 31, 2009 at 6:53 am
(14) Peter Eedy says:

My daughter, who is a professional writer and editor, taught me to read the text line by line, starting with the last line.

I also find it useful to temporarily change the entire text to a completely different font.

Even better, read a hard copy rather than on-screen, but the best method of all is to have someone else proof it for you!

March 31, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(15) Harold V. Cordry says:

An old proofreader at The Kansas City Star, where I began working in the late 1960s, recommended that I always use a pencil when I checked proofs and to make a dot under each word. Doing this made the eye pause and lessened the risk of glossing over typos and misspellings.

April 1, 2009 at 12:42 am
(16) Jan Avelin says:

My sister-in-law’s leather-bound thesis title was, in two lines: “The Nature of Motets in the / the work of Musician name…”

There was this wonderful, original work, with two “the”‘s emblazoned on the cover.

Sigh.

April 1, 2009 at 10:14 am
(17) Gloria says:

I’m a proofreader of many years’ experience. My favorite self-goof was the heading, in an article on kidney disease, “Rental clearance”.

I have learned that no matter how carefully you proofread, it’s futile: words have a way of changing themselves into typos while your back is turned. That “Rental” indubitably said “Renal” when I proofed it!

April 4, 2009 at 4:44 am
(18) Ann says:

Christ! It seems proof-readers are of a certain breed. What the psychiatric equivalent of fussy perfectionism? Just so long as it is pleasant to read and understandable is good enough for me. So, I suggest have anyone, not a professional proofreader, who has the time and interest in your finished manuscript, read it. That’s how “colege” was caught in the first place …

July 22, 2009 at 9:29 am
(19) Accurate Editor says:

This is a wonderful post. My advise is not to count on MS Word spell checker or any software. Just get someone else to look at your work.

July 22, 2009 at 9:30 am
(20) Professional Grammar Editor says:

Terrific post! Getting an outside set of eyes or a Professional grammar editor to proofread ones resume is the surest way to get all the misspelled words and awkward phrases corrected.

July 22, 2009 at 9:32 am
(21) Professional Grammar Editor says:

Terrific post! Getting an outside set of eyes or a Professional grammar editor to proofread your work is the surest way to get all the misspelled words and awkward phrases corrected.

July 22, 2009 at 9:39 am
(22) Otieno Josh says:

Great tips! Will definitely put these to use in my proofreading
tasks.

January 6, 2010 at 10:14 am
(23) Kevin - Cooking 42 says:

Richard, When I was a magazine editor our motto was “the more eyes the better.” Every article was read by four different editors and by me twice. For proofing my own stuff I find that reading it aloud and reading a printout are the two most effective techniques.

And yet errors always slip through – sigh.

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