When Oakland A’s pitcher Pat Venditte made his major league debut, he did something unique: he alternated between pitching arms. In fact, it was such a unique debut that some people forgot the word for it. Ambidexterity. As one headline put it:
“Amphibious pitcher makes debut.”
One simple proofread could have saved these writers from internet infamy. That’s what proofreading is all about: getting your draft to a state of distraction-free polish so you don’t cringe over the obvious errors in your work.
Here’s everything you need to know about proofreading: how it’s done, why it’s important, and how to improve your proofreading skills.
What Is Proofreading?
The term proofreading comes from old publishing parlance. Before a publisher sent a book to the final printing press, they would create a galley proof with extra-wide margins. This gave readers room to highlight mistakes before the final printing.
Hundreds of years later, little has changed. Checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes is just as important as ever. As it was in the 1600s, a final proofread remains the last check for errors before you send your work out to the world.
When Do You Need Proofreading?
Simplest answer? If you’ve written something, it needs proofreading. Ideally, proofreading comes after you’ve run it through a copy edit, which focuses more on sentence construction for maximum clarity.
But for those working on something more advanced—like the manuscript of a novel—you may want to get more intensive with this process. Some people even hire freelance proofreaders and freelance editors for important office presentations or creative manuscripts.
Get Your Proofreading Down to a Science
Writing Editing Masterclass—Content Editing, Copyediting, and Proofreading
How to Proofread Effectively
What is proofreading without a working knowledge of words and language? Not much. But you can give yourself a boost with some key tips:
- Run it through a program first. As skilled as you might be, running a piece through software like Grammarly will point out the obvious errors you might have missed. It’s not flawless, but it will highlight the glaring issues you can fix before you hand it off to someone else for editing.
- Develop the “inner ear.” The more well-read you are, the more often you’ll hear those inner alarm bells tingling when something seems amiss. If you need some help, consider reading through the classic The Elements of Style.
- Get a new perspective. Want a fun trick? When you proofread something, consider changing the font to something a little sillier, like Comic Sans. Other people recommend proofreading backward, sentence by sentence, just to focus on the small details without getting lost in the prose. Another popular trick is to read a piece aloud. No matter which strategy you chose, give yourself extra psychological distance between you and the piece. This will help you evaluate the writing with an objective eye.
- Sleep on it. If you’re trying to proofread your own work, you’d be surprised at how much a night of sleep can accomplish. Don’t start proofreading until you can return to a piece with an objective eye—almost as if you were approaching it without having read it before.
- Publish it. Okay, don’t publish it quite yet. But have you ever noticed that you don’t notice some errors until after you publish that blog post or send that email? To spot new errors, consider reading over a piece in a new context. Get off Google Docs and move the piece to a draft on your blog. Read it as the piece will appear on your website. Does it look different now? Are you noticing some errors you couldn’t spot before?
Want Better Writing? The Proof Is in the Reading
Proofreading may seem like the least exciting way to polishing up a piece. Rather than making big choices like “first person or third person?” or “should I cut this adverb?” proofreading can mean switching out commas for periods and choosing between colons and semicolons.
But think of it this way: Every small error you make is one fewer error that won’t distract the reader from your voice. And that’s 100% worth the effort.
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