Proofreading is simple.
That may seem like a sacrilegious statement coming from someone who spent years justifying that proofreading is a specialized skill to condescending critics.
But I want to show you a simple proofreading trick, so you are able to review your writing like a professional proofreader — even if you only have time to proofread your writing once.
This underutilized technique will help you spot and correct errors in your digital content that you’ve previously glossed over.
The difference between proofreading and just reading
A common misconception is that proofreading is the same activity as reading. Why would someone pay a professional proofreader when anyone who knows how to read could point out mistakes in a piece of writing?
This attitude can be an obstacle for freelance proofreaders looking for work.
But ultimately, as many proofreaders discover, rather than trying to attract writers who “don’t get it,” it’s more effective to speak to those who already understand the value of a thorough, professional proofreading.
It’s a lesson that can be applied to any type of digital business:
Appeal to people who already want and understand the value of your product or service — the right prospects. Don’t try to win over people who are not interested in what you do — the wrong prospects.
This proofreading trick is a clear example of why the activity of proofreading is unlike just reading.
Now, take off your writer beret and put on your proofreader fedora, so you can view your writing like someone who has never seen it before.
Proofread from the end to the beginning
When you’re satisfied with your final draft, here’s how you can give your content a professional polish.
Up until now, you’ve (presumably) been reading your writing from the beginning of the text to the end. We want to trick your brain into looking at everything you’ve written in a different way.
Start at the end of your document and read the last sentence backwards — slowly.
For example, you would read the sentence, “Start at the end of your document an read the last sentence backwards — slowly” as “slowly — backwards sentence last the read an document your of end the at Start.”
Do you see any word choice errors, missing words, or incomplete thoughts that weaken the sentence?
It’s easier to spot writing mishaps when you view your words in a different order.
In this example, the word “an” should have been “and.”
Then, for good measure, read the same sentence as you normally would — but slowly. Spot any mistakes?
Let’s add on.
Stop proofreading at each punctuation mark
As you review each sentence backwards, and then forwards, stop reading any time you encounter a punctuation mark to make sure it is used correctly.
Does each period end a complete sentence? Is each comma used appropriately? Each dash? Each quotation mark? Each apostrophe?
Here are two examples:
Did you write “it’s” instead of “its?”
“It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” “Its” is a possessive form of the pronoun “it.”
Since you’re carefully evaluating your punctuation choices, it will become clear if “it’s” or “its” is correct.
Did you write “you’re” when you intended to write “you’ve?” (Here’s a secret: I made that mistake in the first draft of this post. Shhhhh: don’t tell anyone.)
When used correctly, punctuation marks help guide the reader through your content. The reader will take his effortless comprehension of your writing for granted.
With this proofreading activity, the words you read don’t make a casual, light imprint in your mind, and you don’t overlook punctuation marks.
Here, each punctuation mark and word are tattooed on your brain.
Proofread each sentence like this until you reach the beginning of your content, correcting mistakes that pop out along the way.
Present your readers with a distraction-free experience
Proofreading is simple, but it requires patience, which many people lack.
If you have the patience to review your writing slowly just once, the time you spend proofreading will be much more effective than if you rush the process but are able to skim through your text multiple times.
Treat proofreading as a specialized activity, and you’ll see the quality of your writing improve — so your readers can focus on your content without distractions.
If you found this post useful, make sure to also check out The Traffic Light Revision Technique for Meticulously Editing Your Own Writing.