Proofreading Like a Pro: Self-Help Guide
Writing and proofreading are important skills we use daily in our personal and professional lives to express thoughts and ideas or to share important information. Whether it’s emails, social media posts or organizational communications, we’re tasked with writing and proofreading messages every day. So how can you ensure your writing, especially for your business or brand, is as effective and error-free as possible? Read on to learn how.
Proof After Polishing Your Rough Draft
Usually your first draft is pretty ROUGH, and that’s perfectly OK! Sometimes you’re just trying to get your thoughts recorded, and making sure it’s correct is the least of your worries. Once you get a substantial draft, do a silent read-over to revise, edit or restructure your thoughts. Then set aside. When you have fresh eyes, do a second read-over aloud to make sure it makes sense and catch any glaring grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. You can even start at the very end of the writing sample and read every other sentence out loud. This method helps reduce oversights and holes in your writing and allows you to thoroughly examine each sentence separately for readability, clarity and conciseness.
Utilize Trusted Resources
Always have a dictionary, thesaurus and style book (if needed) handy to look up proper spelling, context and capitalization. Digital tools, like spell check, are also helpful to supplement your efforts. But don’t become dependent upon them, because you can’t use them with hardcopy prints or items that have to be eyeballed – such as PDFs, designed flyers, websites, etc. It’s also a good idea to create a running ledger of issues you come across often for quick reference. Lastly, you can turn to a friend, family member or colleague for guidance if you need a second set of eyes.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Formatting – Formatting is a way to organize your message in a way that increases flow, readability and comprehension for your reader. Making sure this is consistent is important because 1) visually it looks nice and tidy; and 2) it helps your reader understand and group related bits of information. Headers, subheaders, bullet points, numbered lists, pullout quotes, tables and charts are all examples of techniques you can use.
- Comma Usage – Comma usage can be tricky because this literary device is often overused and underused. Sometimes it feels right to add a comma, and other times it feels wrong. But if you’re guilty of both, online resources (like this article) can help refresh your memory.
- Homophone Hang-Ups – These mistakes are easy to make because homophones have the same sound and pronunciation but different meanings. For example, “they’re” (contraction), “their” (ownership) and “there” (location) are commonly misused, as well as many others. As a rule of thumb, always double-check if your usage is correct.
- Context/Vocabulary – It’s important to remember that words have two meanings: a denotation (literal) and a connotation (abstract or implied). This is why improper use of vocabulary and synonyms can confuse readers (e.g., incorrectly using words like slander and libel interchangeably). To avoid this, make sure your word selection matches the context of the sentence and overall message conveyed.
- Spelling Bee – Although you may never use “spelling bee” words like onomatopoeia, septuagenarian or desiccate, be mindful of commonly misspelled words in business writing like accommodate, judgment, liaison, committee, millennial and guarantee. Want to prevent more misspelled mishaps? Put this list on your radar.
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