Proofread Like a Professional

By | Feb 16, 2008

Whether you are proofreading letters for your boss or proofing a newsletter going out to clients, an administrative assistant will always need good proofreading skills. You want everything that leaves your office to attest to the professionalism and quality of your employer, and nothing says incompetent better than typos and misspellings in letters and other written documents.

Here are some proofreading tips to help you become better at spotting mistakes.

  • Proofread your document backwards. Start at the end and read backward word for word. This will help you find misspellings and double words more easily. Then go backwards again sentence by sentence looking at each individual sentence at a time. This helps look at sentence structure separately from the content of the document.
  • Ask someone else to read over your document. It’s easy when you’ve written something and read over it several times to miss mistakes. Your mind tends to fill in what you expect it to say instead of what it actually says. A second pair of eyes can often catch things that you’ve overlooked.
  • If you proofread frequently, it’s a benefit to learn proofreading marks. It helps you remember why you marked something when you go to make changes.
  • Keep a style manual on hand. The Business Writer’s Handbook is a good reference tool.
  • Spell check and grammar check are wonderful tools, but don’t rely on them entirely. They will miss any misspelling that results in a valid, if incorrect, word.
  • Use a blank piece of paper to cover lines not yet proofed. This has two benefits. It keeps the eye from skipping forward and missing a mistake, and it helps keep the eye focused on the current line.
  • Don’t check for every type of mistake at once. Read through once for spelling, again for grammar, and again for formatting issues (extra spaces, excess hyphenation, font changes, etc.).
  • Watch for font changes. Often if text is cut and pasted from another document, the font carries over with it resulting in font changes throughout the document. It’s a subtle thing that can give the whole document an unprofessional look.
  • Remember, just because you cut and pasted the text from an existing, published document doesn’t mean it is mistake free. I’ve found many mistakes that were published in subsequent copies of a document because no one proofed it before the 2nd, 3rd or 4th printings. Don’t assume everything done in the past was done correctly!

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7 Comments so far
  1. Barbara (3 comments) March 3, 2008 6:10 pm

    Hi Jodith,

    Thank you for sharing such great advice on proofreading. As a blogger, who often becomes blind to my own writings, the tips you have provided will make proofreading my work much easier.

    Happy Blogging!

  2. Jodith (189 comments) March 4, 2008 9:48 am

    Thanks for the response, Barbara.

    Proofreading has always been a particular bane of mine, so I have tried to collect tidbits over the years about how to be a better proofreader.

    Jodith

  3. CatherineL (1 comments) March 4, 2008 10:56 am

    Hi Jodith – These are great tips. I especially like the idea of checking through a few times for different types of mistake.

    However, I’ve never tried reading backwards before and even the thought of it makes me quite dizzy. I’m guessing that takes quite a bit of practise.

  4. Jodith (189 comments) March 4, 2008 10:25 pm

    It does take a bit of practice. But reading it backwards helps catch things like repeated words, that the eye tends to gloss over when reading forwards.

  5. Jo (2 comments) March 30, 2008 2:44 pm

    I’d add one more, read it out loud. Often the act of listening to your own words will help you pick out awkward sentences, too-often repeated words, etc.Nice list!

    Jo’s last blog post..Entrecard StumbleUpon Update

  6. Save Your Marriage (1 comments) December 14, 2009 1:32 pm

    That is really interesting. I have never thought of reading backwards before. That is a great idea when editing and looking for double words or mispellings

  7. Jodith (189 comments) December 20, 2009 7:52 pm

    Thanks. Reading backwards was one of the first things I was taught when I first started doing proof reading for a graphic design firm lo these many years ago. It’s always stood me in good stead.

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