Proofreading and editing isn’t that hard…you’d think. Still, I manage to stay in business because I have a secret. Now I’m sharing it with you. I’m a Sydney proofreader who’s been in business for almost 20 years. I still have many of my original clients (which makes me very happy).
Before we start, I want you to begin to think differently about the chore of proofreading. You think it’s all about finding mistakes, right?
Wrong. It’s more about patterns.
Take a look at this graphic below:
What’s the first thing that pops into your head? What do you notice?
Me? I look at that and groan. It’s all wrong! The four-sided figures aren’t all the same size or the same shape and they’re on different planes. That image makes me feel a little bit sick.
I am pleased that they’re all the same colour.
So what was your reaction? If you groaned, too, you’ll make a brilliant proofreader.
You see the ‘wrongness’ of the grouping.
However, if your first reaction was, “They’re all blue” or “They’re all four-sided” then you’ll do OK as well. You’ve seen a pattern.
(If your first reaction was ‘Rubbish logo’, then you’re probably a graphic designer and you can stop reading now.)
What doesn’t fit the pattern?
When you proof copy, you’re looking for words or symbols that don’t fit – the word ‘color’ amongst pages of ‘colour’, the em rule or hyphen instead of universal en rules. (One of my favourite clients hates me because I change her incorrectly placed hyphens to ens. She thinks it’s pointless. I disagree. The mixture of hyphens and ens where there should be all ens…well, it’s disturbing to a reader.)
Most of us ‘see’ things that don’t fit but allow our brain to override that part that’s saying, “Isn’t something wrong here?”
When you proofread, your first step should be to ‘look without looking’ so your brain can register what doesn’t fit.
General proofreading tips
Once you have a sense of the wrongness or rightness, make a list of everything you’re checking. This could be: client’s name, phone number and address; product names; offer (all 15% not 18%); or page numbers and links.
If you must do your own proofreading, then read each word syllable by syllable. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
Better still, give your copy to a colleague or an experienced proofreader (like me) and give yourself a second chance.
Finally, read through your corrected copy once more to make sure it all makes sense.
So what are your tricks? Can you read your own copy…or do you give it up as a bad job and hand it over to a fresh pair of eyes?