Note: This post contains 25 misspelled words, and I bet you can’t find any. Ready? Begin proofing!
“Proofreading is vitally important, hard to do well, and tedious as hell.” ~Brian Clark
That’s the best quote I’ve ever heard about proofreading, but I’d like to extend Brian’s remarks a bit. In fact, I’ve got 14 tips just about guaranteed to make you a better proofreader, and maybe make the task a tad less terrible.
Ready? You’re still watching for those typos, right?
#1: Assume a proofreader mindset.
Proofreading is tedious, but so is exercise. Who really wants to do 25 pushups, right? I don’t.
But, imagine someone challenged you to do them. Would you refuse the test and let the antagonist think he won? Or, would you take the challenge to prove him wrong? I’m betting you’d take the challenge and you’d no longer think pushups were tedious either. Your mind would be in a different place where resolve, confidence, and a heightened sense of attention and focus replaced the tedium. You’d be in the zone and you’d finish the set with perfect form to prove your worth.
Well, why not transfer this mindset toward your proofreading?
In fact, you may already be in that mindset. In the first sentence of this post I challenged you to find 25 misspelled words (I lied; there aren’t any).
Up to this point, you were reading differently than you normally read weren’t you? You were progressing at a slower pace, paying extra attention to detail, and most important, inspecting every word instead of scanning.
You were proofreading instead of reading.
You examined every word because I challenged you to. So, why not challenge yourself by imagining that errors exist in everything you write?
Presto, you now have the proper mindset to become a great proofreader. Now you’re ready to take your imagination even further by using our next tip.
#2: Think book deal, baby!
How tedious would proofing be if you knew you had a book deal coming? Instead of an antagonist challenging you, the thought of being a published writer would automatically make proofing more appealing and less of a chore. So, before you hit that publish button for your posts, imagine you’re the proofreader and that’s the last time anybody will proof your work before millions of eyes see it.
Now your mind is right, but you still need concrete tools to complete your transformation.
Proofreading is hard to do well…without a routine. Proofreading well is tough, but getting in the habit of following the remaining tips will help you overcome the challenge.
#3: Read and write every day.
Sounds too simple and unrelated to work properly, but it does. Like magic, the more you read (while using tip #1) the easier proofreading becomes. The more you write, the less you repeat common writing errors. If you hate writing, or reading, or both, you can change this with our next nifty tip.
#4: If you hate to write, write about something you hate. If you hate to read, read about something you love.
Sometimes it’s easier to write about something that gets your dander up, like politics. So, even though you may love writing within your current niche, as a writing exercise, choose a topic that frustrates you to no end and witness the ease of releasing emotion onto paper.
Reading is different. Reading is easier for me when I genuinely love the subject matter. Since love is an attentive emotion, it leads to longer periods of concentration.
And since all bloggers read other blogs they love, it makes sense to practice our next tip.
#5: Practice Proof–Love with other bloggers.
Bloggers already practice link–love between each other, so why not offer to proof each other’s posts before they go live? It’s simple human nature that proofing someone else’s work will increase the desire not to miss anything, and doing so is great proofing practice.
#6: Write…run away…then read.
After you finish writing, walk, run, or jog away from your screen before you start proofreading. Fixing everything at once will only allow errors to fool your eyes into believing they don’t exist. Take a break, and come back with your well-rested proofreader mindset. You’ll be happy you did, and you’ll be ready for our next tip.
#7: Slow down!
We touched on this with the first tip, but it’s important enough to explain further. Try reading at a slower pace than you normally do. If you can read a whole blog post in two minutes, try doing it in three minutes when you proofread. Act as though you are trying to explain the text to someone that didn’t quite understand it the first time you spoke it to them.
#8: Read aloud, and read silently if time permits.
In a quiet setting, read your post aloud (and silently if possible). If you don’t have time for both, I would suggest reading aloud, since your mouth has to voice each word and your ears pick up the errors better than your mind sensing errors as you read silently. If you’re lucky enough to have another person nearby when you’ve finished writing, use the next tip.
#9: Have someone else read your post.
Find anybody who can read, (English major not required) and have them proofread your post. Chances are they will spot silly errors you missed, even if you proofed your post twice. Someone unfamiliar with your post won’t have preconceived notions of how it should sound, so they won’t subconsciously gloss over any mistakes.
They’ll also let you know if your story makes sense, which is a great measure of how your blog audience might perceive your post. And speaking of perceptions, our next tip is critical toward those.
#10: Avoid the passive voice.
Look out for any form of to be.
Examples: is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, can be, should be, would be.
In your word processor, do a search for each of the words above. If verbs follow them, it’s probably a passive voice sentence that you should rewrite.
Incorrect passive voice example: Some errors are missed by proofreaders.
Corrected active voice example: Proofreaders miss some errors.
You’re trying to be an authority to your readers, so write with authority. Using your word processor’s find functionality in this manner will help you tremendously and will come in handy for our next tip.
#11: Keep a list of words you misspell.
Some words are hard not to spell incorrectly. Keep a list of such words and do a search and destroy for them. For example, I would always put an s on the end of toward, so I always search for this word to see if I butchered it again.
To check your misspelled words, as well as general writing guidelines, you’ll need some resources in case you forget.
#12: Keep reference resources nearby.
Master the rules and reference them when you forget. Do so with offline and online resources such as Merriam-Webster, The Little, Brown Handbook, and The Elements of Style to name a few. If you learn to love the rules of writing, you’ll love reading these references time and again, and your proofing will dramatically improve.
Remember that proofreading is vitally important… for authority. Take proofreading lightly and blog readers may remind you of our next proofreading tip.
#13: Avoid copy errors or blog readers may take back the authority they loaned you.
Content marketing makes you a subject matter expert. It makes you a perceived authority in your niche. Silly typos detract from that authority.
Proofreading errors are pimples on a face and scratches on a new car—unwanted blemishes distracting from the underlying qualities of the subject matter. Would you rather have pimples or a clean face? Would you buy a new car with scratches on the paint? If one sale walks away due to proofreading errors, that’s one too many, which leads us to our final proofreading tip.
#14: Bloggers should devote an amount of time to proofreading that, at the very least, equates to the value of one lost sale.
If you sell gumballs for 3 cents each, you obviously won’t be as concerned with proofreading as the blogger who sells yachts, but do try to spend a proportionate amount of time practicing the proofreading craft.
Over time, these 14 tips will transform your proofreading efforts. No, they won’t make you perfect. They haven’t made me; I miss an occasional MahSteaK, but practicing them will certainly make you better prepared than the clients who hire me.
About the Author: Shane Arthur is the unofficial proofreading sheriff of the Blogosphere. He’s proofed for such noted bloggers as Brian Clark, Terry Whalin, Jon Morrow, Mark McGuinness, Chris Garrett, and Glenn Murray to name a few. Have a conversation with Shane on Twitter.