A guest post by James Adams. If you wish to write one, check out the guest-posting guidelines and details.
No matter how cogent or insightful your thoughts, if your blog post, article, or paper is filled with errors that should have been caught your readers will at least be distracted, and at worst, move on to someone with better writing. Your credibility will be diminished and success will be that much harder to achieve.
Those little details really do matter! And since proofreading involves more than finding errors, you’ll need to learn to make excellent word choices and employ solid sentence structure to maximize the clarity of what you are communicating.
Here are 10 tips for proofreading that will produce flawless, readable documents that give you the confidence you are delivering your very best to your readers.
1. Give it the Time it Requires
Quick proofreading is poor proofreading as I’ve learned the hard way. I have to go slow to make it effective.
2. Proofread Three Times
That doesn’t sound like fun, but you’ll learn to appreciate this approach. The first time through consider the content of what you’ve written. Clarify unclear thoughts and expand those that are too dense.
The second time through look for spelling errors and common mistakes, since you’ll soon learn that no spell checker is perfect. They often get confused with verb tense issues, and they cannot read your mind when you’ve typed one word but meant to type a homonym (bow/bough, accept/except, there/their, etc). Reading the piece backwards at this point causes you to focus on each word to check for the common errors discussed.
The last time through, seek to enrich the vocabulary of the piece. Allow the thesaurus to be your friend when looking for better word choices.
3. Let your Writing Age Before You Hit Send
I try to let blog posts and important articles sit for at least a few hours before I do a final edit. I often find my thoughts are even more clear and can be articulated with much greater effectiveness and clarity.
4. Find a Proofreading Friend to be Your Editor
Do you know a fellow writer that would be willing to serve as a second set of eyes before you deliver your work to be viewed by thousands of sets of peepers? Have thick skin and ask them to look not only for spelling and grammar errors, but to offer word choice suggestions and even make critically constructive evaluations of content. Your pride might be a bit tweaked, but you’ll soon learn to be thankful when your writing improves and your feedback shows that your readers are noticing.
5. Concise it!
Technically, concise is not a verb, but it should be! It’s the quickest way to say “cut your writing down to the essential points and words.” If you don’t add clarifying sentences to the final draft, shoot to make it 5% to 15% shorter than your draft. Cut fat, not meat, and your writing will benefit immensely.
6. Write Conversationally
If your article or post reads like something delivered at a dry, academic symposium, it will likely be received with little enthusiasm. Write like you are explaining your thoughts in a friendly chat with friends. It may help to read your work aloud to yourself or someone else to verify that it sounds conversational. Record it and listen to it as a way to measure it’s readability.
7. Edit from a Printed Copy
This may make it easier on the eyes, since a screen can get a bit blurry after hours at the keyboard. A printed version is also useful for making notes with red pen, crossing out excess verbiage, and changing vocabulary prior to implementing the corrections in a final version.
8. Avoid Distractions
Proofreading takes total concentration. I keep earphones nearby and tune into white noise if I have to, to compensate for a boisterous environment. I want to meld with the writing during my three-phase proofreading so I will not miss any opportunity to correct or improve the content.
9. Do a Numbers Scan
If you use numbers in the work, quickly verify you got the order correct – 457 not 475, or added the right number of zeros when stating the U.S. population at 300 million.
10. Polish your Writing, Don’t Wear the Finish Off of It
Do everything I’ve suggested, and then let it go. Clean up grammar and spelling; clarify muddled sentences; replace boring words with vascular ones that bleed when you cut them. And then refuse to obsess about making it better, better, better… Eventually it will begin to deteriorate! Don’t overdo it. Learn to know the tipping point between improving the work and making it “too perfect by half.” That takes time and experience, and is the sign of truly mature writing and proofreading technique.
Professional writers develop a proofreading technique that is customized to their style, incorporating many or all of these rules. They will tell you that their writing improves remarkably through the process. It is the crucial final series of steps that pushes their writing from good to great, setting it apart from the crowd.
The guest author, James Adams, writes for Cartridge Save where he reviews products such as the HP 22 ink cartridge as well as editing their marketing and design blog.
Reading three times?
That’s too much for someone lazy like me! Thank God I have a friend who edits posts for me.
I have never tried a print copy! But it seems like a good idea. Time to give it a try! 🙂
I read it three or four times when I have time. I do it twice at least.
The printed copy is costly and not eco friendly, but its the most effective. I have worked on the making of a college magazine. We read the draft for over 5 times and gave it for draft printing. We were able to spot more than a dozen errors from the draft. 🙂
Don’t read it – your brain will autocorrect the mistakes. Use a screen reader to read it out to you – you’ll spot a lot more mistakes that way.
I don’t think everyone’s brain is as gifted as yours, I do recommend most of the above tips. At least re-read it twice.
Great post. So many people don’t realise the value in taking your time over proofreading. I work for a copywriting and text editing company where we have an independant proofreader meaning we have a set on unbiased eyes look over everything – as you suggest with getting a friend to take a look.
The numbers suggestions is one that always catches me out espeically with numbers like “6″ and “9″!
I have heard that John Chow has someone to proof-read his posts for him. Thanks for dropping in 🙂
So many people don’t realize the value in taking your time over proofreading.
Great tips. I prefer making a print out or having someone to proofread for me especially if the person I’m asking for help is a good conversationalist.