To be taken seriously, everybody needs their work to be as accurate as possible. Having reviewed the market-leading tools, we’ve collected the best proofreading tips to make sure you avoid those costly mistakes.
In 2020, the global content writing services market size was valued at a mind-boggling USD 19.6 billion – and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6.5% up to 2028.
The proofreading industry runs in tandem to that. It has swelled in recent years, due in part to the increasing amount of content being produced and shared online.
While proofreading software tools have improved a lot, they are far from perfect. They often lack context, and a human eye is still needed to spot certain errors.
Here are the best proofreading tips for all types of work.
Our SEVEN best proofreading tips.
- What Are The Best Proofreading Tips?
- What Are The Biggest Proofreading Errors?
- Proofreading tips: a conclusion
What Are The Best Proofreading Tips?
The proofreading industry is vital for ensuring that written materials are accurate and error-free.
It is a significant part of the publishing and communications process, and plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of all written content – from blogs, to books, to social media, to research papers, to press articles, to legal docs.
Here are our top tips:
1. Pause before proofreading
You’re finished, now pause!
Taking a break before diving into proofreading can help you approach your work with fresh eyes and a clear mind, which can make it miles easier to spot errors and inconsistencies.
Additionally, it can be virtually impossible to proofread your own work immediately after writing it, because you will skim by habit. You’ll be far too familiar with the text to catch tiny mistakes like missing words.
By stepping back and away from your work for a little while, you can come back to it with a refreshed approach, a more critical eye and you’ll be more effective in your proofreading endeavours.
2. Read the text out loud
Listen to what you’re actually saying.
Reading your work out loud can help you catch errors that you might miss when reading silently.
When you read out loud, you are forced to slow down and pay greater attention to each word, which can help you pick up on mistakes that you might have overlooked.
Also, hearing the words spoken can actually help you improve the quality of the text too. It’ll help you identify awkward or unclear phrases, and can also help you check the flow and rhythm of your writing.
Reading out loud can change your mind on lengthy or fluffy parts of the text, and also help you identify areas that may need to be rephrased or restructured to improve the quality of your work.
3. Use a spelling and grammar checker
Obviously using a grammar checker is a no-brainer. Just don’t rely on it.
A grammar checker when proofreading can help you catch errors that you might miss when reading through your work manually.
Grammar checkers can identify and flag simple potential issues with grammar, punctuation, and spelling, which can save you time and effort in the proofreading process.
They can also suggest possible corrections and alternatives, which can help you improve the overall quality of your writing. Certain proofing tools are designed for specific industries and is often done inside the program, such as screenwriting software, or social media tools and templates.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that grammar checkers are not perfect because they lack context. They may not catch all errors related to actually understanding the text, like missing words.
You should still proofread your work very carefully after running it through a grammar checker.
4. Double-check for homophone errors
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as “there” and “their.”
These can sometimes slip in easier when writing or reading in a second language. Checking for homophone errors when proofreading can help you ensure that you are using the right word in the correct context, which can prevent confusion for your readers and stop work looking sloppy.
To check for homophone errors, here are a few different methods:
- Read through your work out loud (which we already covered).
- Look out for words that you often confuse, because everyone has those blind spots. Then, check them extra carefully.
- Ask someone else if they’d be kind enough to proofread your work (not the most exciting task!), as they may pick up on some homophonic errors that you’ve missed through familiarity.
- Be dialled in and mindful of the context, along with the meaning of the sentence and the individual word in it.
5. Check for missing or extra words
Missing words are one of the hardest parts of a document to proof, partly because grammar tools and checkers don’t pick them up as easily.
There’s also the unconscious part of our brains that skims documents, and auto corrects and fills in gaps in our heads.
To catch missing words you need to slow down the process.
Here are three proofreading tips to do it:
- Read backwards! Start at the end of your document and read each sentence backwards, word by word. This can force you to laser focus on individual words, which makes mistakes stand out.
- Use the ‘find’ function: Press CTRL+F and you’ll have a little box pop up on the top right corner (on Mac), which you can use to search for key words or phrases. This at least makes sure the biggest parts of your document are correct.
Proofreading isn’t as simple as it sounds, and missing words are one of the fiddliest elements to spot. These types of errors appear in countless books and documents, so it’s not just you finding them hard.
Just remember it’s a multi-step process and that (as boring as it is!), you need to make sure your work is as complete and accurate as possible.
6. Check for consistency
Checking for consistency when proofreading a document can help ensure that your writing is clear, accurate, and easy to understand.
Consistency is also a key part of brands, so if you’re writing professionally you’ll want to make sure your capitalization and casing is right throughout the doc.
- Make sure you review formatting & style: You’ll likely have a brand font, so double-check that headings, font, formatting, and style are consistent with no exceptions.
- Check for consistency in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. For example, US vs UK english, especially where ‘z’ and ‘s’ are often swapped round.
- Check for terminology: On technical docs like science papers or legal works, make sure that you are using the same terms, phrases, and language consistent with the profession.
- References and citations: Always reference your citations accurately – and no, Wikipedia is not an appropriate academic source! These also need to be consistent in their format and styling.
- Glance over figures and tables: Make sure that your figures and tables are labeled, numbered and captioned in all the right places.
- Numbers and dates: Another place where date format might change from country to country. Make sure that you are using the same format throughout.
Consistency is a big part of brand building and building respect and trust with your readers, so one of the best proofreading tips is to make sure you pay special attention to formats, fonts and brand guidelines before you send for approval.
7. Get someone else to proofread
Here’s an easy suggestion!
As far as proofreading tips go, one of the biggest is to enlist the help of others (and not just because you’ve run out of patience).
Here are the advantages that come baked into this approach.
- Fresh perspective: Another (non-jaded) person who hasn’t just written a 10,000 word essay might be able to bring you a fresh perspective which can help highlight whatever you’ve missed.
- Greater objectivity: Since ego tends to get in the way, it can be hard to stay neutral when proofreading your own documents. A trusted friend / colleague might be able to give you an impartial opinion that benefits the overall piece.
- Improve understanding clarity: When we write, we tend to take shortcuts. That’s because we know what we mean! Having someone else glance over your work can help you understand where bits sound muddled or unclear – and fix them before it gets published.
- Good honest feedback: Everyone benefits from valuable feedback on their writing. It’s pretty much the only way you can really improve as a writer.
Overall, everyone should ask for a second opinion. Part of the proofing process is to improve the work, and someone else can help you do that as well as highlighting the errors you missed.
What Are The Biggest Proofreading Errors?
The fact is, a lot of people get instantly bored of trawling back through a document that seems ‘finished’.
If you’re short of time or patience, just know that you’ll be doing a huge disservice to your own work if it’s littered with simple errors.
Here are the biggest pitfalls that people fall into when proofreading their documents:
Failing to bother
Even if you think it’s error-free, please, please proofread.
Everyone makes mistakes, and a second set of eyes (even your own) can always catch something that you’ve missed.
Laziness is not an excuse, especially in a professional environment.
Skimming at speed
Read through your work slowly and carefully to catch all of the writing errors.
Skimming is natural (and tempting), but it can and will cause you to miss lots of small mistakes.
Relying too heavily on spell check
Spell checkers and tools are helpful.
Nobody is saying they don’t have huge value in the proofreading process.
But don’t get lured into a false sense of security. They can also miss errors and suggest incorrect spellings, or get the context totally wrong.
Neglecting the detail
Go through and make sure that verb tenses, singular and plural forms, punctuation, regional spelling, formatting and other expected elements of the text are consistent throughout.
Proofreading tips: a conclusion
The world is obsessed with content.
Which means that there is a LOT of it.
As a result, there is a high demand for skilled proofreaders, especially because machines can’t do all the work… yet.
By proofreading with care, you won’t just tweak errors, you’ll also get the chance to reflect on your work and be self-critical enough to change and improve it.
We hope this article helped. If you spotted any errors that we didn’t – please reach out! 😉 .
You can also subscribe to our YouTube or social channels for more detailed tips pieces, and reviews on every type of software you can imagine.