Tips for proof reading

Generally on this blog I steer clear of giving tips, mainly because, since I’m still to realise my ambition of becoming a professional writer, I don’t consider myself qualified for offering advice quite yet.

However, as I’ve spent the last five years or so proof reading as part of my day job, this is one area I do feel confident enough in to offer some tips.

I’ve avoided this article before just in case I make a mistake myself – that would be ironic, wouldn’t it?  And as no-one proof reads my blog before it’s published, that’s a risk I’m taking!  If you do find an error, consider it a test of your proof reading skills, and congratulate yourself if you find one.

So, here are my top five tips when proof reading your written work:

  1. Read from the bottom up

    If the article is short (fewer than two sides) then read from the final paragraph up. Our brains get used to reading the same passages over and over, which is why you can read something several times and not spot a mistake.  Reading in a different order steps your brain up a level and allows you to see those errors.

  2. Phone a friend

    Ask someone else to read it for you.  We become ‘word blind’ to our own work, so asking someone who has good English skills to cast their eyes over it can make all the difference.

  3. Trust in the technology (almost!)

    Spell Check can be your friend, but use with caution.  Spell Check is often a royal pain in the booty, especially if it doesn’t seem to want to switch over from American/British English.  It also makes its own mistakes so should never be relied upon 100%.  However, rather than disregard it completely, I suggest using it as a final tool to give your document a once over.

    It’s a bit like a sat nav; if you rely on it completely and allow your brain to take a holiday, you’ll likely end up driving through a river at some point or another.  But if you apply your knowledge and use the technology as a back up, then you’re more likely to reach your destination the best way possible.

  4. Read aloud

    Reading aloud not only forces you to read slower, and therefore take in more information, it also allows you to hear what your words actually sound like, enabling you to pick out any potential problems.
  5. If in doubt – look it up

    Sounds obvious, but it’s so tempting to avoid using a particular word if you’re not sure about it.  Rather than doing this, perform a quick Google search and find the answer.  You’ll learn loads of new words and grammar rules this way, and will become a more proficient writer – and proof reader – in the process.

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