This is by far the riskiest blog post I’ve written, since it’s about proofreading and I’m bound to make a mistake that I won’t spot on my subsequent read throughs. Still, let’s treat it as a proofreading test for everyone.
Proofreading is a key skill for journalists, since it’s really annoying for news editors and subs to get work littered with easy mistakes that would have been spotted had the copy been read through by the reporter before it was filed. Here are a few tips to help you spot most of those pesky mistakes:
This might seem obvious, but reread copy after you’ve finished it. I have seen so many pieces of copy where a reporter has clearly not even glanced at their work after completion, as if they had they would have noticed the typo in the first line.
Give yourself some time
Often it’s difficult to spot a mistake straight after you’ve written something, so work on something else for five minutes and then go back and reread your work. That little bit of time will often give you the fresh pair of eyes you need to spot any errors.
Read out loud
This does help, because then you’re actually taking in what you’re reading, and you’ll stumble over anything that’s wrong.
You don’t have to read the letters backwards (!), but start at the end of your piece and look at each word on its own. This sounds strange, but it’ll really help you see if you’ve got the spellings of words right, and if you’ve used the correct type of word (there/their/they’re). It helps because you’re reading the word that’s actually there, and not what you think you’ve written based on what comes before and after.
Print it out
A little bit environmentally unfriendly, so don’t do this for every piece. Printing something out and reading it in hard copy will make mistakes easier to spot than looking at it on the screen you’ve been staring at for the past few hours.
Read in a different programme
If you can’t print your work out, read it in a different programme to the one you’ve written it in. So if it’s in a content management system you use, copy and paste it into a word document. Again, the different format will make you see it differently and you’ll be more likely to spot errors.
Read the contractions
If you’ve used contractions, read them out as what they would have been if you’d used both words, just to check you’ve used the right forms. So where you’ve written “you’ve” read it as “you have” when proofreading.
And that’s it. Mistakes will happen (until humans are perfect mistakes will always happen), but following the steps above means you’ll make fewer errors. As an exercise, use the steps above and point out the mistakes I’ve made in this blog!