10 crackerjack proofreading tips, and then some


Image courtesy of DIRECTV and the super-hunky Robe Lowe.

“I’m a professional writer.”
“And I’m a professional writer who doesn’t proofread very well.”

Typos make professional writers look like hacks.

And we’ve all had those awkward moments when someone points out our errors even though we could have sworn we went through that document at least a dozen times.

So, here’s some tips (and some bonus links) to help you up your accuracy and reduce those awkward moments. Because no one wants to be that writer.

#1 Print it to proof it.

Most of these tips are for proofing printed copies. It’s the most effective way to catch your errors.

When you read your work on the screen, you scan over the words—especially near the end. Proofreading a printed copy helps you read more accurately and catch mistakes. You’ll also be less likely to get distracted.

#2 Tap each syllable.

On your printed version, tap each syllable with a pen or pencil as you read through it. You’ll be more likely to find missing or duplicate words and anything else that’s trying to hide.

#3 Compartmentalize your proofing.

Take a pass for spelling. Another for punctuation. Another for fact-checking. And a last one for formatting. It helps you move through the document faster without getting bogged down, distracted or exhausted.

#4 Double-tap the ends of certain words.

Some words like to fool you with easy-to-gloss-over endings. Double-tap the ends of plurals and words that end in “es,” “ed,” “er,” and so on to make sure you’ve finished them correctly.

#5 Circle ending punctuation.

I have a bad habit of forgetting to put periods at the end of the last sentence in a paragraph. It doesn’t help that periods also tend to get shuffled around when I edit. Circle the punctuation at the end of every sentence to you make sure you added it.

#6 Check matching punctuation.

Ever forget to close quotation marks? Or parentheses? Put a checkmark on the opening marks and the closing marks to make sure you’ve completed the set.

#7 Proof, fix, proof, repeat.

To help avoid burnout, proof a paragraph or two, then fix those in your electronic version. Then proof another paragraph or two, and fix those. And so on. Helps keep the eyes from crossing, especially when proofreading longer documents.

#8 Take your time.

By the time we get to the proofreading stage, we sometimes just want the document off our plate. But chances are, you can take the extra time to print it and make sure you proof it properly.

Yes, deadlines are important. But if clients want it ‘bad,’ they can have it ‘bad.’ Otherwise, you can take your time.

#9 Give it a rest.

Set it aside for at least an hour. Just enough time for your eyes to revisit the real world before you dive back into your project. The fresher your eyes, the faster and more accurately you can catch mistakes.

#10 Give it one more pass.

Especially if it’s a short piece. Take just one more pass, just a few more minutes to make sure you’ve got it polished. It can help you catch that one last typo that happened during your “one last editing round.”

Want more proofreading tips? You got it.

21 Proofreading and Editing Tips for Writers
by Melissa Donovan via Writing Forward

I don’t know anything about the site or products, but this article has some excellent tips on becoming a better proofreader for the long haul.

It covers things that I haven’t seen mentioned in a lot of articles on proofreading, such as remembering to proof headers, not making assumptions, choosing a certain set of style standards and so on. Good stuff to think about. Click here to read on.

Get Your Eagle Eye On: 10 Tips for Proofreading Your Own Work
by Leah McClellan via Write to Done

This is one of the best articles on proofreading tips I’ve come across so far. It gives you a brief backstory into the importance of proofreading (because who doesn’t need the reminder once in a while) and provides some solid, actionable, real-world tips that any writer can do. Click here to read on.

Grammar Girl: Proofreading Tips

Migon Fogarty makes a good point:

“If you think about it in terms of letters rather than words, since most typos happen at the level of letters, that 1 typo a week equates to about a 99.997% success rate.” Read the full article.

This article takes a more cerebral approach to proofreading in that there aren’t as many tips as there is discussion about proofreading and typos themselves. I found it a solid read. One that made me feel better about habitually forgetting to leave a period at the end of my last sentence.

If you’ve been following Rubber Ducky Copywriter for almost any length of time, you’ll notice that sometimes, typos slip by me. That’s what happens when I don’t follow my own advice. But just printing it out and tapping each syllable has reduced by my typo output dramatically.

What about you? Swear by any proofreading tips? Share in the comments.

7 thoughts on “10 crackerjack proofreading tips, and then some”

  1. Hi Erica

    Before I proofread my or anyone else’s work, I always cast a more general eye over it first.

    This helps you to spot things that you might miss by the normal process of reading it carefully word by word.

    Typical proofos you might spot this way are: inconsistent use of white space (some paragraphs are spaced apart more than others), inconsistent heading levels and inconsistent indentation (often happens when you present information in lists).

    1. Hi Kevin,

      That’s an excellent point, one that I hadn’t considered or come across before. Will have to start doing that as it’s definitely not my habit.


    2. I like the points about inconsistency. Those usually stand out like a ruby autumn leaf on an otherwise green tree.

  2. No matter how good you are, I think we can all use additional tips because there isn’t one cause of errors. It is good to know the types of things that you are prone to so that you can watch for them, but so many factors such as sleepiness or working with terms you’re unfamiliar with etc. can come into play. The more ways you have to double check the better.

    I’m prone to punctuation errors, spelling on words that should be simple, and errors with synonyms. On the other end of things, sometimes I over-edit too.

    Great additional links as well. I’ve always liked Grammar Girl.

    Two pieces I wrote that have received a lot of traffic are:
    “Are You Making These Costly Copy Errors?” and “Edits: 5 Quick Checks for Better Writing.” (Both are listed on my start page).

    1. I’ve heard it said that best are working to hone their craft and get better. That includes proofreading and polishing.

      For anyone who wants to visit Peter’s two posts — which I’ve found helpful and recommend —, here’s the link: http://peterdmallett.com/who-am-i/

      Look for the second bullet under “Other popular posts.”

  3. As in Robe instead of Rob?

    One tip I’ve heard about but haven’t tried is to “read” the document backwards. That’s supposed to help you find spelling errors.

    Most of the time, I don’t worry over-much about spelling. My fingers “stumble” if I misspell something when writing. I’ll be going along, full speed ahead, and suddenly my fingers are tripping all over the keyboard. It gets my attention. I pause, look back a few words, and yup – there’s the sneaky culprit. Fix that, and the words that came after, and I’m good to go.

    Now, if only I’d stumble over my over-use of semi-colons…

    1. Yup. And “easy to use” instead of “easy to sue.” 🙂

      I’ve also heard that tip about reading it aloud backwards but when I try it, I just end up confusing myself.

      Also, semi-colons are cool. The more, the merrier, I say.

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