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Be a better proofreader

We all have to read copy for errors and omissions. Those of us lucky enough to have colleagues who can read our copy know that the best ones are worth their weight in gold. Several people proof-read a magazine that I put together, but three of them (even if they don’t know it) are so important to me. One is a grammar pedant; one is quick to point out where I’ve worded things badly; and a third is a genius at spotting the ‘big picture’ problems – the wood that we can’t see for the trees.

Unfortunately we often have nobody other than ourselves to proof-read our copy. In that case, how do we do it as well as possible?

Start with the free tools

Firstly, assuming the copy is on-screen, use spell- and grammar-checkers. This should get rid of the most unarguable problems. After this, however, I like to proof-read on paper, and research backs this up as being better than doing it on screen. I neither know nor care why; I just fire up the printer.

A nice red pen is the only tool needed. It’s not necessary to have learned proofreaders marks, but if making small corrections, a good tip is to highlight these by placing a cross in the margin.

Check any names

Some people have a weird ability to always get names right*. They know instinctively that this particular person’s name is spelled ‘Kieron’ and not ‘Kieran’. It jumps out of the page. For everyone else, check every name. Is it MacDonalds or McDonalds? In isolation, either looks correct to most people.

Once the corrections have been applied to the original piece, I like to use the computer to read the piece back to me, with my eyes closed. We all know that computers have trouble with emphasis and intonation when doing this, but we can use that to our advantage. If the computer gets things wrong, maybe our reader will too – and maybe we can add in the odd comma or split the odd sentence to rectify the situation.

*But don’t be envious, they probably can’t spell ‘weird’ right!