No-one has time for DIY proofreading tips, right?
Effective writing often takes much longer than we expect and in our time-poor lives, it’s usually a relief to dot the final full stop, tick the box on your to-do list and move on.
Not only are we short of time, but proofreading is tricky. For at least two reasons.
- You’re too close.
Writers are often emotionally attached to their work, and this can make it difficult for us to look at our writing objectivity. We all tend to read what we meant to write rather than what we actually wrote. A ‘cooling off’ period between writing and proofreading can help you step back and review your work with some detachment.
- You’re too brainy.
Most people can easily make sense of a paragraph that’s written with all the letters in each word jumbled up. We do this fairly effortlessly by relying on subconscious assumptions about familiar letter combinations. This is an amazing feat of the human brain but there’s a downside. It also explains why it’s so easy to miss errors when our subconscious is correcting them on the fly.
Proofreading requires time and effort and skill, and it’s not something you can effectively do last thing at night, or on the way to a meeting. Here are examples of the 3 most common errors I come across as a proofreader. Check for them in your next piece of writing. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to find it.
Proofreading Tip #1: Grammar
The sentences, ‘The dog loves playing’ and ‘The dogs love playing’ clearly illustrate this English grammar rule.
English speakers instinctively know that if the subject of a sentence is singular (‘the dog’), then the singular form of the verb is required (‘loves’). And that if the subject of a sentence is plural (‘the dogs’), the plural form of the verb is required (‘love’).
It may surprise you how often I correct this error in longer sentences such as the following…
This example comes from an academic paper on the impact of climate change on the Galapagos sea lion.
‘The Galapagos sea lion Zalophus wollebaeki are an iconic species.’
‘The Galapagos sea lion Zalophus wollebaeki is an iconic species.’
This example comes from a testimonial:
‘Her positive energy and warm dedication to a first class outcome was greatly appreciated.’
‘Her positive energy and warm dedication to a first class outcome were greatly appreciated.’
Proofreading Tip #2: Punctuation
Previous posts cover basic apostrophe rules, including the use of an apostrophe to show ownership or association.
This example comes from an academic paper.
‘Natural or anthropogenic catastrophic events are a major factor in a populations risk of extinction and should be included in any Population Viability Analysis (PVA).’
‘Natural or anthropogenic catastrophic events are a major factor in a population’s risk of extinction and should be included in any Population Viability Analysis (PVA).’
This example is from an ebook on healthy living.
‘Nothing ages a body faster than toxins. Unfortunately, in todays society there is no escaping them no matter how clean a life you live.’
‘Nothing ages a body faster than toxins. Unfortunately, in today’s society there is no escaping them no matter how clean a life you live.’
Proofreading Tip #3: Spelling
Many words are spelled differently in Australian English and American English.
While, for example, ‘optimise’ (Australian English) and ‘optimize’ (American English) are both correct, it’s wise to choose which to use according to your expected readership. Once you’ve made your choice, be consistent – it looks odd to find both Australian and American English spelling in the same piece of writing.
Also, don’t forget to check the settings in your online spell checker as American English is the default for many. A quality dictionary should provide alternative spellings and label them clearly.
Here are some more Australian English / American English pairs you need to be aware of:
specialise / specialize
normalise / normalize
acclimatise / acclimatize
categorise / categorize
behaviour / behavior
neighbour / neighbor
colour / color
honour / honor
humour / humor
judgement / judgment
enrol / enroll
fulfil / fulfill
traveled / travelled
labeling / labelling
How do you feel about proofreading? Does it frustrate you when you can’t see your own mistakes? Is proofreading something that you make time for, or is it one of the things that gets sacrificed due to time pressures? Which errors do you typically make, and what type of cheat sheet would help? I’d love to hear from you.
At Edit Proofread Write, I help small business owners, professionals and academics use the right language to achieve your goals.