69. Proofreading Tips for Finding Errors in Your Own Work

Author: Nola Published: about 2 months ago.
Tags: proofreading, text to speech Category: Writing tips

Have you seen those memes on Facebook that ask if you can read something? Try these.

You can raed mipsslleed wrods as long as the fisrt and last ltteers are in the rghit plcae.

OUR M1ND5 C4N DO 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG3!

Even though the first example has misspelled words and the second substitutes letters with numbers, most English-speakers would be able to make sense of them. Our brain fills in the gaps and we see what we expect to see. This is wonderful news for neuroscientists, but not so good if we’re proofreading our own work. We know what we mean to say, so it’s easy to miss a spelling mistake, omitted word, or typo. It’s always good to have someone else go over your work because they might be more likely to find those types of problems. If you have to go it alone, here are some tips that will maximise your chances of finding errors.

1. Use a spellchecker with caution. Microsoft Word includes a spelling and grammar checker which can be found under the ‘review’ button in the toolbar. Before running a document through the spellchecker, set the dictionary language for the type of spelling you want (e.g. Australian English vs American English). Spelling mistakes are underlined in red; grammar and punctuation errors are underlined in green. Although this feature is helpful, it’s not foolproof. A spellchecker will let you know you’ve written ‘bammboozel’ instead of ‘bamboozle’, but won’t tell you that you’ve written ‘cat’ instead of ‘car’ or ‘seven’ instead of ‘seventy’, because ‘cat’ and ‘seven’ are spelled correctly. The grammar checker may also mark some things as errors that you want to keep (e.g. sentence fragments). Use a spellchecker for the first pass through your document, but then go over the manuscript yourself to pick up other errors.

2. Read from a print copy (or use both print and screen). After using a spellchecker to correct your document, I recommend printing out a copy to proofread. There’s been a debate about whether reading from paper is different to reading on a screen. See the article by Ferris Jabr in Scientific American for more information. I find it better to work from a print copy because (a) it’s easier on the eyes, especially for longer documents, thus enabling you to concentrate for longer periods; (b) you can easily flip back and forth to check for inconsistencies, rather than having to scroll through a long document; and (c) you’re less likely to get distracted by other things popping up on the screen (‘Oh look! My friend’s just posted a video of her puppy eating a pair of shoes.’).

If you’re writing something that will appear online (e.g. blog post, online article), use the preview option to check how it will appear on the screen. This is especially useful for checking formatting and live web links.

3. Use a ruler. Place a ruler under each line as you read. This will slow down your reading and stop you from scanning ahead, thus making it more likely you will find errors.

4. Change the font or format. If you’ve read a document over and over, it becomes so familiar that you might not spot any anomalies. Save the document into another file and try changing the font type, font size, and/or layout (e.g. in columns or in landscape orientation). The resulting differences in the look of your document may make it easier for you to spot errors.

5. Listen to it. We process words differently when hearing them rather than seeing them. If you read your work aloud, you may pick up mistakes you wouldn’t notice otherwise, especially certain types of errors such as repetitions or missed words. Better still, have someone else read while you follow along on your copy. I always did this back in my days as a university academic, especially when cross-checking student marks or proofing long data files. If you don’t have another person handy, there are a plethora of text-to-voice software programs that will convert your words into speech. Some of these are free or provide a free trial. For example, text2speech allows you to type in up to 4000 characters at a time and convert the text to a sound file with the push of a button. You can read about other freebies here. Paid versions usually come with more features (e.g. more memory, greater choice of accents). You can see a review of some of them here.

Do you have any other tips for proofreading? I’d love to hear your examples.

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