Have you noticed how seemingly careless people have gotten with their writing? I certainly have. But that’s because as an editor and a proofreader, I get paid to notice—and correct—such things. Everywhere you look these days, our written words are littered with errors. Just take a gander at your inbox (or, if you really want to be horrified, at your sent items). There they are like fleas on a dog: typos, misspellings, confused words, missing capitalization and punctuation, faulty grammar, and plenty more.
It’s clear that the frenetic pace at which we conduct both our professional and personal lives necessitates we do everything all at once and right away. So we (and by we, I don’t mean SMITH specifically, but the general we) have a tendency to dash off an email or a text, update our social sites, post to a blog, or rush something out the door without scrutinizing every last pixel and character. The byproducts of our haste: mistakes. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if our reputations and credibility weren’t on the line. Because they are, and by making silly mistakes, our readers are judging us as lazy, careless, even ignorant.
What to do? Proofread your work, of course. It’s as simple as that. If you care enough to put your thoughts in writing, you owe it to yourself—and your readers—to make sure your copy is free of errors. Even if think you lack an eye for detail, you can still learn to proofread your work with proficiency. Let the following tips and techniques be your guide for proofreading your work.
Tip 1: Use that wonderful tool called spellcheck—most word processing and layout apps (from Google Docs to InDesign) offer a spellcheck function. Also, if you’re preparing a document in Microsoft Word, turn on “formatting marks.” (Click the Home tab, navigate to the third pane, and then click the paragraph symbol to turn on/off formatting marks.) Enabling the formatting marks allows you to identify any potential issues, such as extra spaces, double spaces between sentences, awkward line breaks, and more.
Tip 2: Re-read everything you write, and then read it aloud. Hearing it will tell you whether or not your meaning is clear. Reading your work aloud (or whispering if you don’t want to disrupt your pod-mates) also makes it easier to identify any missing words, as you’re more likely to stumble while reading aloud than you would if you were doing it silently.
Tip 3: If you skip out-loud reading, at least slow down when reviewing your work. Force yourself to read slower, syllable by syllable if you can. It’s amazing how much our minds fill in the blanks. If it helps, drag your finger or cursor across every word, or isolate each line by covering the text beneath it.
Tip 4: Check your punctuation. All sentences should have end punctuation: a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. It’s very easy to forget and subsequently miss a period. It’s just as easy to end a question with a period.
Tip 5: Read what you’ve written backwards—right to left, from the bottom up. You’d be surprised how effective this method is in turning up errors.
Tip 6: Print a hard copy. I know this flies in the face of those well-intentioned email signatures (“Consider the environment before printing this…”), but proofreading is better done on paper than onscreen. Try it and you’ll see—and sacrificing a few scraps paper seems much less serious than blowing an entire proposal over a couple typos.
There are other techniques you can use to proof your copy, but these six will go a long way toward helping you improve the quality of your work. Remember, minor malfunctions in your writing can have major implications on your reputation and credibility. So keep this list handy and refer back to it before you hit send on that next important email.
Joe Ehrbar is a senior editor at SMITH.