Remember when you wrote that brilliant – no, life-changing – article you were excited to share with the world, only to discover after it went to press that your argument was undermined by typos? You agonized over your diction, syntax, and tone, while simultaneously composing a natural masterpiece that would cause a flood of single tears to be shed across the nation. Countless hours were spent scrubbing for errors until they were all eradicated…or so you thought.
Unfortunately, the first thing your readers noticed was the typo in the second paragraph, not your innovative approach to curing world hunger. Or maybe you spent months designing trade show booths for a big client and somehow missed that “Managment” was misspelled in the header on one of the 10-foot pods…or maybe that’s just me. (Clearly this oversight still haunts me, so I hope you can learn from my mistakes.)
Some typos may seem trivial, but they really do have the power to devalue any piece, whether it be an article, website, brochure, you name it. As harsh as it sounds, when I’m looking at a company’s website or reading an email from someone trying to get my business and I see multiple typos, they instantly lose credibility. If my business is that important to you, shouldn’t you take the time to proofread what you’re sending me?
Now that we’ve established how crucial it is to catch writing errors, here are a few proofreading tricks to help you minimize the number of typos you produce.*
1) Make your work as unfamiliar as possible.
You know the point you’re trying to convey, so your brain is very comfortable with the piece and its intended meaning. Try changing the visual form and you may catch some mistakes you didn’t notice before. You can do this by printing it out and editing by hand, or by changing the font or background color.
2) Proofread for one issue at a time.
Searching for every class of mistake at once can be too much for our brains to process, causing some to slip through the cracks. If you have time, try to edit the piece a few times, looking for different kinds of errors in each pass: spelling, consistent styles, active vs. passive voice, etc. For example, when I edit 300-page user manuals, I like to skim once to make sure all the links are working, and then again for formatting and styles. After knocking those out, I finally read and edit all the copy.
3) Take a break and edit again later.
Since you know what you’re trying to say, your brain gets in a pattern of skipping mistakes to infer meaning. Proofread with fresh eyes by taking a step back and attempting to forget what you were trying to say in the first place.
4) Always have an extra set of eyes.
Speaking of fresh eyes, ALWAYS have at least one other professional edit your work. Give them a little background so they can tell you if you’re fulfilling the assignment, but have them edit during their first read-through.
I hope these are helpful in your proofreading process. Now go change the world one error-free piece at a time.
*I did, in fact, employ all of these tips while editing this article. So if you find any typos…well that’s just embarrassing.
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