Thanks to Lynn Gaertner-Johnston for these tips published in her March e- newsletter. Visit her site and sign up for her newsletter.
13 Secrets of Professional Proofreaders
Proofreaders would not stay employed if they missed the errors that pass many of us by.
To be sure your message sustains your readers' confidence, apply these "secrets" of professional proofreaders:
1. Professional proofreaders don't read straight through from beginning to end. They read each element of content separately. For example, they read the headings, check the formatting, review the headers and footers, and read the text all in separate steps.
Proof like a pro: Review each element of content separately. Even in email, review your subject line, check your attachment, test your hyperlinks, and read your message in separate, systematic steps.
2. Proofreaders check every aspect of a document: text, fonts, font sizes, page numbers, lists, titles, footnotes, illustrations, tables of contents, captions, etc. In recurring communications such as newsletters, they check everything that changes: volume numbers, dates, titles, and so on.
Proof like a pro: Remember to check everything--even boilerplate content, which may need to be updated to suit the situation. Read every slide in PowerPoint.
3. Proofreaders double-check the spelling and capitalization of all proper names.
Proof like a pro: Be sure to spell your reader's name and company name correctly. Misspelling names is one of the most common errors in email. (I will attest to that fact, as someone who is frequently called Lyn, Lynne, and Lin and whose surname is often mangled.)
4. Proofreaders confirm specific details such as people's titles, email addresses, phone numbers, and locations.
Proof like a pro: Use the Web to check addresses and titles, and test phone numbers by calling them. For speeches and presentations, do Internet searches to verify quotations and historical references.
5. For online documents, proofreaders test every link to ensure that it is live and named or described accurately.
Proof like a pro: For email, send a test message to yourself to check links and formatting.
6. Proofreaders check numbers in a separate step. They compare final numbers with original source documents such as calendars, purchase orders, price lists, price quotes, and invoices to ensure a match.
Proof like a pro: Don't assume numbers are correct. Confirm them using other sources. Make sure all numbers are current.
7. Proofreaders work in pairs when documents are highly complex or technical. One person reads aloud while the other proofreads silently.
Proof like a pro: Work in pairs when a report or proposal is crucial to your success.
8. Proofreaders read from a printed page rather than a screen. They read line by line, often using a straight edge such as a ruler or an opaque sheet of paper to help them focus on each line.
Proof like a pro: Avoid proofing solely on the screen. Print important documents and read them line by line.
9. Proofreaders read aloud when they are having trouble concentrating.
Proof like a pro: Take the time to read important messages aloud. Run your finger under the words to guard against reading words that aren't there.
10. Professional proofreaders read other people's work, reviewing it with a fresh set of eyes.
Proof like a pro: If you can't swap documents for a fresh look, at least put aside a document for a few hours or overnight. That way, you can give it a fresh reading.
11. In the absence of copyeditors and fact checkers, proofreaders take responsibility for factual accuracy. They either confirm a fact or write "Cannot confirm."
Proof like a pro: Verify dates, places, times, prices, and any other information that is available to you. If you can't verify a fact or figure, find someone who can. In a proposal, a mistyped date or misplaced decimal point can make a million dollar difference.
12. Proofreaders make and follow a list of style choices. For example, if SHUTTLE is rendered in all capital letters on page 1, proofreaders make sure the word is in all caps on pages 12 and 20.
Proof (write) like a pro: Use your software to automatically type, correct, and format words. For example, don't repeatedly type long names such as Weyerhaeuser and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Use AutoCorrect, AutoText, and AutoFormat to render words consistently and easily.
13. Professional proofreaders keep their skills and knowledge fresh. They buy the latest style manuals and keep up with trends in language.
Proof like a pro: Include a new style manual or dictionary in your annual budget. Subscribe to online directories. If you are aware of a skill gap, fill it. If you get stuck on confusing words, get "60 Quick Word Fixes," which explains 60 challenging word pairs and provides easy memory aids.
Apply one or more of these proofreading techniques the next time you proofread an email or other communication. Then enjoy the relief and satisfaction of catching your own errors.
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