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!