Proofreading – a guide

Proofreading is often a thankless task. It is one of those things people only notice when you’ve done a bad job. After all, no one bothers with how many words in a text are spelled correctly – it’s the irritating errors we tend to notice. Yet what exactly is proofreading, and what is the best way to go about it? This guide teaches you everything you need to know.


      What’s the purpose of proofreading?

      Proofreading is often the last hurdle a text must clear before being published or printed. The goal is to minimise the number of linguistic errors and distracting issues in the text. Not only should the reader be both willing and able to take the message to heart, but the author of the text also needs to come off as sincere and trustworthy. Most of us have come across texts ridden with spelling errors. Pretty annoying, right? Hardly how you would want a reader to feel about something you wrote yourself.

      In nine out of ten cases, it is better to have someone else proofread what you’ve written. Not convinced? There’s actually a very logical reason behind this: When re-reading a text you’ve worked on yourself, your brain already knows what’s coming. It anticipates the next words before you even read them. When there is something wrong with the text, your brain wants to help correct the problem – say, by filling in missing words, or transposing the letters in a misspelled word. That’s why it is so difficult to catch linguistic errors in a text you wrote yourself, no matter how careful you think you are.

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      What does a proofreader do?

      Proofreading essentially means carefully reading through a text, focusing on form. The proofreader’s job is to ensure that the text is correct and consistent. This entails everything from correcting spelling errors to ensuring that bullet lists are written in accordance with whatever writing rules are being applied.

      Among other things, the proofreader ensures the following:
      • Spelling is consistent and in accordance with English writing rules
      • Punctuation is used correctly
      • Line breaks, headings, and paragraph breaks are all in order
      • Abbreviations are used consistently and correctly
      • Double-spaces are removed
      • There are no misplaced modifiers, such as multiple subordinate clauses causing ambiguity
      • Numbers are written correctly

      If no specific instructions are given, proofreading is quite straightforward. Focusing on what is linguistically right or wrong, you can make small, necessary adjustments without too much consideration or need for external input. However, some jobs may require for you to be familiar with company-specific language rules, or the person ordering the proofreading has specific wishes. This may include verifying facts, reviewing the layout, or ensuring that the text does not contain any gaps in logic. Make sure you know what is expected of you before starting the assignment.

      How can I become a good proofreader?

      A really good proofreader regularly practices their craft, and in bulk. They read and are familiar with all sorts of texts – newspaper articles, fiction, blog posts – and have learned to quickly spot and correct issues that easily fly under other people’s radars. It takes a patient and thorough mindset and, last but not least, extensive knowledge of English writing rules.

      The main challenge of proofreading lies in the ability to read a text without getting hung up on its content, no matter how interesting the topic. Identifying errors such as double-spaces, repeated words, or transposed letters in a word requires concentration. A proofreader must look at every individual word, while simultaneously reading them in their context. A tired brain starts automatically skipping letters and words and easily overlooks errors, so to this end, proofreading is a task best performed over short bursts of time.

      Download our proofreading checklist now!

      Improving your writing with our comprehensive proofreading checklist. Make sure that you catch every typo, grammatical error, and formatting issue by downloading this essential tool for writers today.

      Proofreading is for everyone!

      As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Still, anyone can proofread, even if they have never done it before. All you need is a pen and paper, or (as is certainly the norm nowadays) a word processor. That said, it might not always be easy to know how to get started, and even the most experienced proofreader can sometimes use a little help along the way. Here are five tips for proofreading – whether you’re a novice or just looking to tighten up your technique:

      Five tips for proofreading:
      • Don’t rush! Stress and proofreading is a bad combination.
      • Switching fonts every once in a while can make it easier to spot issues like double-spaces and unwanted line breaks.
      • Print copies of the text – errors may be easier to spot when you see them on paper.
      • Tired? – Get up, take a break, do something else for a bit. (Or, go to bed and continue tomorrow.😊)
      • Did you write the text yourself? Let the text sit for a while before proofreading it. The longer, the better – at least a full 24 hours.

      Proofreading or language review?

      Do you have the impression that the text you’re working on would benefit from more comprehensive editing? If so, you should consider a language review.

      A language review allows for a much deeper analysis of the text.This is often more time-consuming than proofreading, and having a good dialogue with the author of the text is key. This process includes not only linguistic correctness, but also considering the intended reader, as well as the context in which the text is to be read. What is the purpose of the text? Does the current draft fulfil this aim? If not, how can you change the text to better connect with its intended audience?

      Proofreading and language review at Semantix

      Keeping track of the various levels of quality control and editing that can be applied to a fresh piece of text or translation can be a daunting task, and it is not always easy to know the difference between them. As luck has it, we do.

      Want to know more, or need a price quote?

      Download our proofreading checklist

      Improving your writing with our comprehensive proofreading checklist. Make sure that you catch every typo, grammatical error, and formatting issue by downloading this essential tool for writers today.