As a professional copy-editor, I have plenty of experience of proofreading other people’s copy. For this reason, I have decided to share some of my expertise and put together this handy proof-reading guide.
1. Avoid proof-reading your own work.
Proof-reading work that you have written yourself is always more difficult. This is mainly because you’re too close to what you have written, which makes it harder to spot mistakes.
For example, you may not be aware if you’ve misused a word, or if your copy doesn’t read clearly.
If proofreading your own work can’t be avoided, follow the rest of the advice below.
2. Find a quiet place.
When you’re proofreading, you need to concentrate fully and make sure you are not disturbed.
Find a quiet place, where you won’t be disturbed and where you won’t disturb others (see stage 4).
3. Proofread in your head to fix obvious errors and assess clarity.
A quiet proofread will help you to catch any major mistakes, such as glaring spelling errors and points that don’t make sense. If you iron out these problems at this stage, you can focus on refining your text in stage 4.
4. Proofread aloud to assess flow and punctuation.
Speaking the words out loud is a great way to help you check the punctuation. Make sure you have pauses (commas) and breaks (full stops) in all the right places, so the text reads easily and clearly. And make sure the copy is split into paragraphs at the appropriate points.
5. Proofread backwards to check spelling.
When you read forwards, you can skim over words without reading them properly.
Reading backwards may sound strange, but it means you’re not distracted by the flow of the text or the form of the sentences. This means you can concentrate on each individual word and make sure it’s spelt correctly.
Proofreading is not just about reading the copy. You also need to make sure that the rest of the document is in good order.
Here are some additional points you should look out for.
Anomalies such as text that goes under pictures, strange text alignment or inconsistent line spacing.
Substitute characters, which can sometimes occur when you switch between software — for example from word-processing software to graphics or publishing.
Formatting should be correct, with clearly defined paragraphs and proper spacing.
Colours and fonts should be consistent throughout your document.
Lists should be presented in a logical or numerical order. Make sure bullets and numbers are formatted correctly.
Images should be in the correct position and captioned correctly, with the correct description and the photographer/creator’s credit where necessary.
Headings should have consistent styling and should relate to the text or information below them.
Charts, statistics and quoted information should cite source references, to show where they came from.
Active web links should be highlighted and/or underlined so readers can clearly see where they are.
Does your project need a professional eye?
I’m Jenny Lucas, a professional copywriter who also offers copy editing services.
If you have a project and would like me to critique or edit it for you, please get in touch.