Be a Better Proofreader

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Posted October 2, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

Hello, my name is Marcy Farrey, and I am a perfectionist.

How bad is my condition? Well, when I send out an e-mail, Facebook status update, or tweet, I am instantly horrified if I discover a typo. I can just imagine what the grammar guru watching me on the other end will say — she’s a combination of my meanest elementary school teacher and my toughest college professor. She’ll look at my writing with disgust and automatically assume that I am a careless individual.

Okay, so this is quite a bit exaggerated, but still — how we present ourselves, even in less formal circumstances, is important. It can change how someone views you and your work. It may be terrible, but it’s true. When I meet a new guy, and he’s texting me about a date, I will cringe a little if he says “U” instead of “you” and uses the wrong form of “it’s.” So, what are some ways we can avoid these potentially embarrassing blunders? We have to become better proofreaders.

Danny Rubin offers a couple of great tips on The Brazen Careerist. And as someone who has spent a lot of time proofreading news copy, I can say he’s spot on. Here’s what you should do when you’re reading over your work:

  1. Read it aloud. One of the quickest and easiest ways to check your work is to read it aloud. In newsrooms, you would hear dozens of voices reading different scripts aloud at once, followed by furious typing. A lot of sentences that look good on the computer screen can actually make little to no sense when read aloud. Even if you’re in a quiet room, simply whispering the sentences to yourself can help. Try it.
  2. Get a second look. If you have time and a trusted colleague around, have them give it a quick look over for typos or awkward sentences. Just like in a writer’s workshops, there are certain people who like to find errors in everything and certain people who like to praise everything. Find someone who is in-between the two and can give a good, honest look.
  3. Print it out. You probably wouldn’t do this with a tweet or status update, but with a project proposal or letter, try printing it out for yourself first. You always catch more errors on paper than on the screen. If it is a tweet or status update, you can try copying it into Word and looking at it on a blank page.
  4. Sleep on it. When possible, it’s always a good idea to do this. You’ll be able to look at the text with a fresh perspective. If you’ve been looking at something for hours, you’re more likely to miss the errors — and you’re more likely to make a rash decision. For example, if you’re in the tough position of writing a strongly-worded e-mail — or “nasty gram” — you might send something you’ll later regret. Always take the time to cool off and let the issue settle. Handle it later with the facts, rather than the nastiness.
  5. Make sure you give the proofreading process your full attention. It can be easy to very quickly read something aloud or print it out and give it a quick scan, rather than a full reading. You can wake up before you’ve had your coffee, read over that e-mail with heavy eyelids, and flippantly hit send. Don’t do that. If your intent is to proofread, then really proofread! Give it your best.

Let’s face it — we all make mistakes. We will all miss a typo somewhere along the way. I once made a big mistake in a newscast: I typed million instead of billion. A gentleman later e-mailed me and said “Hey, stupid producer, it was billion not million. Why don’t you try double checking your work?” That one really stung, but I had to remember that even the best of us have bad days, and we’re only human. I’m sure that gentleman has made many typos too — they just didn’t happen to be on live television! So, if the next typo you see isn’t yours, have a little mercy. After all, it could be you on the other end someday.

Check out the rest of Rubin’s proofreading tips here.


About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.

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