Laborious. Time-consuming. Arduous. Yes, to most people it really can be all of the above, especially if you’re stuck checking a document about the driest subject ever.
If you’re a copywriter, however, it’s your absolute bread and butter.
A catalogue of guttering joints, you say? Yes, please! An annual report from an accountancy firm specialising in small business tax returns? Ooh, pick me, pick me!! The nerd in most writers comes to the surface as they yearn for a rogue apostrophe or a debate over an Oxford comma.
Twenty pages into a report, and the thrill of discovering an extra letter in the middle of a sentence – that no-one has spotted until you – is akin to stumbling on an ancient civilisation still existing untouched in the Amazon. You think I exaggerate? Well, only a little.
To some, proofreading is a process referred to flippantly; an annoying step in between being creative and being printed. It’s the nagging parent in the room when you don’t want to do your homework.
As someone who spends most of the working day either writing text or reading it, however, I obviously have a vested interest. I love words and the invisible sparks that fly when words like apposition, collocation, or tessellation jostle for a place on the page – magic!
Yet to see a proof come back with “Dear insert name here” or a designer cut and paste copy without even reading it… Well, I get quite befuddled (another great word!).
So here are some top tips for proofreading:
Work somewhere quiet: sometimes background noise can be comforting, but sometimes it can be really distracting, especially with lyrics or office gossip lending an extra narrative to your mind!
Give yourself enough time: it’s easy to underestimate how long good proofreading actually takes. Makes sure you don’t end up proofing the first half of a document like a Pro, but then run out of time without even looking at the second part.
Proofing on screen: there are some great apps and software for proofreading – like Grammarly – that can be used in conjunction with your own spell-check. Nothing is more effective than human eyes, but they can be a help in spotting some rogue errors.
Print it off: proofing a good old-fashioned hard-copy printout for physical notes and amendments can sometimes be the most effective method for proofing.
Read aloud: to yourself, or to others, to get a better idea of how sentences flow. It’s useful for shorter documents, but may drive you and your colleagues insane if you try it with a brochure!
Check backwards and upside-down: sounds crazy, but it’s a really effective proofing technique. Read sections backwards to check for spellings. That way your brain doesn’t read what it thinks it’s meant to, rather than what’s actually there. Likewise, turn the page upside-down to check typology; sections in errant fonts are easier to see.
Cover sections: sounds counterintuitive, but use a ruler or a blank piece of paper to cover sections as you work to hide distractions and keep you focussed, line by line.
Proof several times: each time check for different things i.e. spellings, pagination, typeface etc. It’s easier to spot anomalies if you focus in on one thing at a time.
Double check facts: dates, days, prices, names, titles etc. Nothing’s more frustrating than advertising an event on Saturday 13 March… when it’s actually a Sunday!
Read when you’re fresh: read it, go away, and come back to it. It’s all too easy to become numb to what’s in front of you. Choose a good time of day when your mind and eyes are still sharp.
Share the load: don’t be the only set of eyes on it. Even a good proof-reader can miss mistakes, especially if they’ve written the copy. Familiarity breeds complacency.
Proofing for errors really does matter. Spending so much time on creating something beautiful, only to spot a mistake afterwards, undermines everything you’ve done.
Trust me. As someone who has proofread an advert for courses in ‘Public Services’ only to spot a missing ‘l’… you need to proofread to avoid embarrassing private parts!