Proofread keyboard

Proofreading 101: (Spell)check yourself

Sebastian Raasch, November 25, 2015

Typos happen. An extra space, a misspelled word – it’s forgivable, especially in today’s fast-paced work world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all strive for polished perfection, because no matter your industry, solid writing never goes out of style. So whether it’s an internal newsletter, new business proposal or routine email, make time to proofread your writing.

But how? You reread time and time again, but still manage to miss an embarrassing error. Well, we’ve had blunders of our own and learned some things along the way. Here are some tips to turn yourself into a lean, mean proofing machine.

The basics:

  • Start with spell check, but don’t stop there. Built-in spelling and grammar checkers don’t cover everything. For any questions that come up, consult authorities like Merriam-Webster and AP Stylebook (I recommend subscribing to the online version for the most up-to-date listings).
  • Take advantage of automated proofreading tools. Online services like Grammarly are a good starting point for any glaring grammar errors.
  • Read aloud. You’re forced to slow down, and more likely to catch hidden mistakes. It also helps you clean up phrasing in trouble spots.
  • Read backward. While tedious, it forces you to take things one word at a time.
  • Print it out. There’s something different about proofing a tangible document. You can really delve in, marking edits right on the page. Just remember to always print sparingly.
  • Call in backup. It helps to have a fresh set of eyes, so ask a colleague for feedback.
  • Be investigative. It never hurts to look further into something out of the ordinary. If you’re even the slightest bit unsure if a word is hyphenated, or whether your designer is working with your chosen color palette, palate or pallet, do some digging.

One step further:

  • Depending on your project, consistency might be equally as important as spelling and grammar. In the design biz, we deal with this daily. Should headlines be all caps, title case or sentence case? Should there be periods at the ends of bullets? How are you treating words like “advisor” and “adviser” that have spelling variations? Sometimes you have to decide the best approach. Just be sure to stick to it.
  • Sometimes, there’s no clear-cut answer. For questions around nit-picky writing rules, look to AP Stylebook’s Ask the Editor, available with an online subscription, and browse user-submitted entries. If you can’t find an answer, submit your own question.
  • When you can’t find a trusty resource that addresses your question, complete a News search in Google to reference relevant examples by reputable sources. Journalists deal with the same questions, so see how they handle them.
  • Keep a running list of your common questions, and a log of how you handle them. That way, you don’t have to repeat work to find an answer in the future. You’ll also know you’re keeping things consistent from one project to the next.

Proofreading is all about finding the methods that work best for you, but this list should help get you started. Now go proof your heart out. If you make a conscious effort to kick out clean writing on a consistent basis, you’ll be an all-star in no time.

PS – Did you catch the typo? There may or may not be one in this post. You be the judge.