If I said I never send out documents with errors, I would be lying. Just today I realized that the notebooks for two classes I taught recently had an error in one of the page titles. What should have said "Use Active Verbs Primarily" said "Use Passive Verbs Primarily"! (If you were in a class with me at the University of Washington or Russell Investment Group and you see that incorrect title on a page, please change it!)
Have you had errors get past you? If you have, you know it is not that we don't care about quality. Sometimes we care too much. The reason I occasionally have an error in a notebook is that I constantly customize. I change exercises, examples, and pages so that my classes are tailored to the audience. That takes time and invites errors. After all, when I have seen an exercise a hundred times and make a change in it, it is difficult to look at the page with fresh eyes. What used to say "Make Passive Verbs Active" became "Use
Passive Active Verbs Primarily" to improve the logic of the exercise.
Other causes of errors are speed and productivity. If you are like us, you work fast and produce a lot. Unless you have a team of proofreaders to review your documents before you print or press Send, errors will slip through.
Given that rationale, here are a few proofreading suggestions to help
you all of us:
- Proofread out loud, even if it's just a whisper. Reading aloud requires more focus than silent reading, and it helps catch words like it for if. Note: You must read what is actually on the page or screen–not what you think ought to be there.
- Read from a printed page rather than a screen, whenever it is practical. With a printed sheet, it is easier to move your finger over the words as you say them and to use a ruler or straight edge as a guide.
- For a long document, check each element of content separately. For example, proofread separately for headings, footers, page numbers, formatting consistency, etc.
- Check the spelling of proper names at least once. If you are not sure of the spelling of a person's name, find out.
- Let time pass between the writing, editing, and proofreading stages whenever it is possible. With the passage of time, your content will be fresher to you.
If you do your best work and an error still sneaks through, forgive yourself and try to take it lightly. Maybe the reader won't even notice. After all, for more than a year, our website mentioned clients in the pubic sector rather than the public sector. (Read about it here, along with a solution.) And we are still happily in business!
Do you have proofreading guidelines to share? Please add a comment below.
2017 UPDATE: I've designed an excellent online self-study course filled with proofreading tips and practice. Take Proofread Like a Pro to improve your skills and confidence.