A Non-Proofreader’s Guide to Proofreading
The truth is, proofreading your own work is hard. Your brain sees what it thinks you wrote, skimming over misspellings and wrong words. You read it over, hand it to your boss, and they immediately point out everything you missed. Why bother, right?
Here’s the thing: You might miss some mistakes. This makes you human. But you will definitely miss all the mistakes if you don’t try. Copyblogger, one of my favorite writing resources, recommends that you “devote an amount of time to proofreading that, at the very least, equates to the value of one lost sale.”
So, now that you’re ready to try, here are my tips for a reluctant proofreader:
STOP. I used to have an actual stop sign taped to the corner of my monitor, up in the left-hand corner, where I’d see it every time I was about to hit “send.” Because after hours of writing or several rounds of rewrites, my brain just wanted whatever it was gone. “I’m sure it’s okay,” my brain would say. “Just send it, no need to look it over.” Hence the sign.
Reset your brain. Get up and take a break, or at least switch to another project for a bit. At the very least, change your surroundings and print out a hard copy—whatever you need to do to switch into proofreading mode.
Read it out loud. Quietly, to yourself (not the whole office). If it sounds awkward to you, it’ll read awkward to your audience.
Keep a checklist of brand standards and things you frequently miss in your writing, such as trademarks, oddly-spelled product names or phrases the legal department needs you to avoid. You won’t forget to check those things because the list will remember them for you.
Read it backwards. It’s a lot harder to skim over typos and formatting issues that way—your brain won’t be racing ahead of your eyes to finish the sentence.
And my final piece of advice for proofreading your own work? Have someone else do it. Early in my career, I thought having someone proofread my work was a sign of weakness. It’s not. It’s insurance. Ask a coworker to read over your writing, and offer to read over theirs in return. If they think it’s a waste of time, just ask them, “is that time worth more than a lost sale?”