In last week’s blog, I discussed the inevitability of human error and how mistakes in print are there for everyone to see. It’s kind of like showing up for a presentation in your underwear . . . there’s nowhere to hide. The bad (and maybe in some cases, the good) is out in the open for everyone to see.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying to alleviate errors. Don’t show up in your underwear on purpose. And don’t skip the presentation just because you’re in your underwear. (Okay, okay. I know. I’ve run wild with the underwear analogy, but stay with me here.) Below are some basic proofreading tips that can help you keep yourself covered.
Though proofing requires extreme focus and concentration, it can be boring. Try something that relieves your mind of the pressure, but allows you to stay focused. This could be chewing gum, tapping your foot, or listening to classical music.
The more familiar something is, the less we tend to notice it. This is why you can review something 10 times and still not notice that half a sentence is missing. You expect the sentence to be there. Have someone unfamiliar with your project review and serve as your sanity check.
We tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Know your weak spot. My weak spot is becoming so involved in making sure the language is correct that I often don’t notice that graphic elements (page numbers, headers, footers, logos) are wrong or missing. I need to complete a separate graphics check.
The “source” writer is the worst possible choice to review the work. “Even a writer or editor who uses a disciplined, structured method to proofread can miss a glaring error because he or she is so close to the work.” (1) Again, have a disinterested third party review the draft.
Don’t check your work on the screen. Print a copy and check the work from a printed copy, “ideally using strong, natural lighting.” (1)
Check for only one type of error at a time. For example, while checking for spelling errors, resist the urge to look for and correct any punctuation errors. Focus on one thing at a time. The same goes for word usage and grammar. These should be separate checks.
Don’t even consider proofreading when you’re tired or stressed. If you’re distracted or inattentive, you’re wasting your time trying to proofread. I’m the least distracted when I first arrive at work, before I’ve checked email or voicemail. Unless there’s a tight deadline, I’ve started setting aside this time (and this time only) for proofing.
Find a quiet area to reduce distractions. Tell your co-workers that you are proofing and that you need time and space to concentrate. Again, I find this is best accomplished first thing in the morning before anyone else arrives.
I’m not sure how many of these ideas will work, but I’m willing to give them a try. I’d like to hang on to my clothes for as long as possible. (And don’t worry. The analogy ends here.)
1. InternetTips.com. 17 powerful techniques to help prevent errors getting through to publication. Available at http://www.internettips.com/departments/editing/17-powerful-techniques-to-help-prevent-errors-getting-through-to-publication/
A version of this article also appeared on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.