The 10 Golden Rules of Proofreading (+ Free Proofing Checklist)

Become eagle-eyed by following the Golden Rules of Proofing        Photo © Diane Baker

Become eagle-eyed by following the Golden Rules of Proofing        Photo © Diane Baker

We all know that sinking feeling of pressing 'send' on a carefully crafted email, only to realise that there's a glaring typo. 
And it won’t give the best impression of your business.

So to save you from the pitfalls, here are the 10 Golden Rules of Proofreading, and at the end is a Free Proofing Checklist that you can print and keep beside you every time you proof.
Handy eh?

10 Golden Rules of Proofreading

Leave enough time to proof. 
Rushing means you'll miss things.

Run your spell check. 
Sounds obvious, but getting the computer to do the first round will save you time. 
Microsoft Word is more robust than Google Docs, and make sure the language is set to your native language e.g. UK or US English.

I bet my own life that you will never ever spot everything on-screen. We read in a different way offline, so you will notice things like whether a sentence reads well, as well as typos. 
Oh and remember those trees and print on both sides.

Use a red pen.
Or any bold colour that will stand out from the text, i.e. not black or grey. 

Read your copy aloud. 
It’s another great way of spotting errors and checking that sentences flow.

Proof for style.
Check your style is consistent, such as: are you writing in a first person, second or third person voice? (i.e. who are you writing for?) 

Why use four words when two will do?
(This is more a copywriting tip, but will save you proofing time in the long run). 
Kill your darlings. Don’t get attached to your words. Edit, edit, edit. Brevity makes for the best writing.

Get a fresh pair of eyes.
Ask someone else (or two or more people if possible) to proof your work too. They won't be as close to it and new eyes spot different things.

Watch out on the second proof.
The chances are it won’t take as long, but it will still need reading carefully as mistakes can creep in while making corrections to the first proof.

Take breaks and know when to stop. 
Try and leave a day or a few hours between proofs so your head stays fresh.
I find three rounds of proofing usually do the job, depending on the piece of work. Everyone’s human, so typos still happen.

But if you follow these 10 Golden Rules (and use your checklist below), you’ll have done your best.

Don’t sweat it too much!


Proofing Checklist 

(Print this so it’s always with you and feel free to add to it).

Page numbers
Titles and subheaders
Contents page
Facts, references and quotes – check accuracy
Images – check resolution (particularly for printed publications), dimensions, image credit if required.
Merge fields e.g. test the salutation / address
Fonts – size and consistency
Run a ‘Reading Ease’ test
Rewrite clichés where possible
Delete adverbs
Check verbs agree with subjects
Shorten quotes
Check for unnecessary capitalisation
Single or double quotes? Up to you, but be consistent.
Replace long words with shorter ones
Use direct, ‘everyday’, plain English
Rewrite passive sentences to active ones: i.e. ‘The dog was fed by me’ to ‘I fed the dog’.

Grammar and common pitfalls
It’s, its
You’re, your
There, they’re, their
Check apostrophes are correct. i.e. The sisters’ dresses (apostrophe comes after the ‘s’ for plural). The child’s coat (apostrophe before the ‘s’ for singular).
Non-possessive apostrophes are just an indication that a letter is missing. E.g. 'It’s' is short for ‘It is’. 
Companies are singular i.e. ‘Ikea changed its logo’, not ‘Ikea changed their logo’
Affect vs. effect
Complement vs. compliment
Lose vs. loose
Practice vs. practise
Principle vs. principal
Spell out ‘and’ (not &) and ‘percent’ (not %)
Spell out numbers 1-9
Do a ‘Ctrl F’ to search for words that are similar but may be misplaced and won’t come up in the spellcheck, e.g. ‘form and from’ 

Other references:
The Guardian's House Style is a good one to emulate and refer to if you are undecided about something.

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