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 content that you’ve previously overlooked.
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.
One reason I love this proofreading trick is that it’s 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 after your final round of editing, here’s how you can give your content a professional polish.
So far, you’ve (presumably) been reading your writing from the beginning of the text to the end. But it’s time to trick your brain into looking at everything you’ve written in a different way.
You’ll first dedicate a special period of time for proofreading and commit to reading slowly.
Start at the end of your document and read the last sentence … then the second to last sentence … then the third to last sentence … and so on, until you’ve read the entire last paragraph.
Continue moving backwards through your draft this way until you’ve read through your headline.
It’s easier to spot writing mishaps when you view your words in a different order, and even though you’ve dedicated time to just proofreading, you’ll also often make edits that strengthen your writing.
For example, if you’ve overlooked that you’ve used the word “good” multiple times, this method of proofreading helps you spot weaker sections of text. You now have the opportunity to refine your word choice.
Let’s add on.
Stop proofreading at each punctuation mark
As you review each sentence backwards, 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?
Punctuation marks help guide the reader through your content, and 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.
Each punctuation mark and word are tattooed on your brain.
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?” (I made that mistake in the first draft of this post. Don’t tell anyone.)
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.