How to Proofread Like a Pro

closeup of a hand holding a pen and writing a list

No one wants to lose a lot of money because of a misplaced or missing punctuation mark, but it happens. And it’s embarrassing to have a typo in a document, especially if that typo is in someone’s name.

Catching these kinds of mistakes is not hard if you follow my method.

The best way I’ve found to catch mistakes is by reading or skimming through an article multiple times, checking for different things each time. For example, after you’ve checked the spelling of Jane Levesque’s name, skim through the entire article or document to check multiple mentions. When your brain is focused on this singular task, it’s easy to notice the “s” was missing in one of the mentions, for example.

Check and double check proper names against a trusted source to be sure they are correct. This is a lesson ingrained from my years in newspapers. That quickly written note on a piece of paper used during a phone call might not be right. Confirm that the “a” is actually an “a” and not an “e.” Check the person’s LinkedIn profile or company website profile.

Skim through again to look only at your company’s name. Aaargh! There’s a letter missing from your company’s name in one of the 12 mentions, but you caught it. If there’s a brand name that needs a trademark symbol next to it, check for the symbol, too, or you’ll be hearing from corporate counsel.

After you’ve checked proper names, you can continue skimming over a document several more times to look for other things, such as punctuation or subject/verb agreement (Does the singular noun have a singular verb? “He streamlines…” instead of “He streamline…”) You can get as specific as you like because you’re just focusing on one aspect of the article or document.

It can be tempting to try to save time by checking for multiple things in one read-through. Don’t do it! Focusing on one thing at a time is the key to successful proofreading. If it helps, you can even make a checklist of the most important items to review. Just go through them one at a time and don’t start on the next one until the one you’re working on is finished. Trust me. It will save you frustration in the end.

If you’re not sure how to spell a word or how to use a punctuation mark, look it up. With online resources, it’s easy to check these kinds of things.

Oh, and one more thing. The spell check function in your software is not all-knowing, so don’t do everything it tells you to do. Look at the suggestions and decide for yourself whether it makes sense to make the recommended changes. My name comes up as “Lovesick” in spell check, which is good for a giggle but not for a final draft.  

Happy proofing!

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