Proofreading Proficiency 101

Proof Reading
Monday 17/06/13

In this world of tight deadlines, limited budgets and super-fast turnarounds, the process of proofreading is something that can often fall by the wayside. It’s an indulgence; the client will check the work anyway; we just don’t have the time! But proofreading – proper proofreading – can be essential to effective quality control. Here are some top tips…

Give yourself time

Proofreading always happens at the end of a job, and when deadlines are already tight, setting aside a designated block of time can feel like an impossibility. But building that little bit of time into your work schedule right at the beginning can make all the difference. It’s your chance to give a job the complete once-over, checking not just for errors but for how the whole document holds together. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked up on an incorrect phone number or glaring typo during final proofing, so get yourself a brew and a Twix, remove all distractions, and get stuck in; I promise you’ll see the benefit.

Have a checklist

If you produce a lot of work for a particular client, or regularly work on similar jobs, it’s worth compiling a list of errors that crop up most frequently. Use this as a checklist when proofing, so you know you’ve covered all the main danger zones. For areas outside the realm of correct or incorrect grammar, just set a rule and stick to it; the format of dates is a classic example – numerals or words? With the ‘th-s’ and ‘nd-s’ or without?

Remember also that proofreading isn’t just about knowing where to put an apostrophe; it’s about knowing what sounds right, what’s appropriate for the job, and being able to distinguish between your own pet peeves and actual errors.

Always work from printouts

It may sound terribly last-century, but proofing on a computer screen is nigh on impossible. Do yourself a favour and get physical printouts of everything, then mark them up with a brightly coloured pen. Be clear and concise with your amends, and don’t waste your time showing off your knowledge of technical proofing symbols if your designer doesn’t know what they mean.

Don’t check for everything all at once

A proper proofread will need you to check through a document at least three times: once for spelling, punctuation, grammar and general readability; once for design, layout and house/client style; and once for overall consistency and flow. Unless you’re Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting or Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, trying to keep tabs on everything at once is a recipe for disaster.

Don’t forget to check the page numbers!

Just don’t.

Know when to stop

There comes a point when you just have to put your red pen down and let a job go. You’ve tinkered all you can tinker, your eyes are sore, and everybody else went to the pub two hours ago. Give it up; no proofreader is 100% faultless 100% of the time, and as long as you’ve done everything you could (in the time you were given) to minimise errors, you can consider it a job well done.

Ultimately, good proofreading is a skill that can require a strong eye for detail, a pedant’s devotion to the correct use of the English language, and a high tedium threshold. Put all that to one side, however, and all you really need is a little planning and a bit of enthusiasm. Happy proofing!

Paul Hirons is Production Manager at publishing and events company Govtoday (and an extremely proficient proofreader).

Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulHi

Image sourced online

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