Okay, so you have to proofread something. Deep breaths. Unless you’re a professional proofreader, you’re likely not too thrilled to find yourself in this situation. You’ve already spent eight hours sitting at your desk writing this document, and three more hours just editing it. Now, you have to proofread it, too?!
Yes, yes, you do. But it’s not all bad. I’m going to give you a choice. It’s time to pick (drum roll, please) . . . your proofreading hat!Proofreading hat? Really?
Yes, really. Putting on your proofreading hat (literal or figurative—your call) will help you get into the right frame of mind. The more you wear your hat while you proofread, the more you’ll associate your hat with proofreading and the more easily you’ll face the tasks that lie ahead.
I know it’s daunting, but at least you have a cool hat!
And luckily for you, we’ve compiled a proofreading checklist for you. All you have to do is follow it. Easy peasy, right? So, proofreaders, rev up your desk chairs, and don your proofreading hats proudly!
The Ultimate Proofreading Checklist
Complete a First Pass
- Correct typos. Scan through the document, and make sure everything is spelled correctly. Changing to a different font type can help the eye to catch errors.
- Thoroughly revise homophones (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings). The most common are their/they’re/there, but also consider discrete/discreet, persecute/prosecute, and farther/further.
- Revise the document based on the conventions of your version of English and your preferred audience/style guide. While U.S. English calls for the serial comma, U.K. English generally does not. You can use the percentage symbol in technical writing, but you should spell out “percent” in most written paragraphs. All the words in your title are capitalized in MLA style, but only the first word is capitalized in most Harvard style guides. All these little rules should be followed according to your location and your audience. Always consult your preferred style guide.
- Don’t forget to proofread figures and tables. This includes formatting. Make sure the numbering is consistent.
- Check for faulty parallelism, especially regarding collective nouns. For example, the word “class” is treated as a singular subject.
- Make sure you’ve used hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes appropriately. The hyphen is used to create compound words, the en dash indicates range, and the em dash is used to break up sentences.
- Be consistent with spelling. All terms and names should be spelled the same throughout the entire document.
- Ditto with spelling out numbers. Most style guides spell out numbers between one and nine, and use numerals for numbers 10 and up, unless you’re starting a sentence. Consult your preferred style guide for the correct formatting of dates, times, percentages, equations, etc.
- Eliminate redundancy, and shorten run-on sentences. Eliminate verbosity. “Due to the fact that” should be cut and replaced with “because.”
- Revise comma splices. If you’ve split up two independent clauses with a comma, you’ve spliced your sentence. Repair by separating your sentence or introducing a semicolon.
- Introduce all acronyms. Before using an acronym, present it. There’s nothing more confusing to a reader than a series of letters with zero help from the author about what they mean. After you properly introduce your acronym, you can use it throughout the rest of the paper, except in titles.
- Cut off the other hand. Sorry, that was graphic. I just mean that, if you’re transitioning with “on the other hand,” “on one hand” has to come before it. To remedy this problem, you can always just use “conversely” instead.
- Consider tone and language. Verify that the word choice is appropriate for your intended genre/medium/audience.
- Check that your paragraphs flow together nicely. Like a rickety bridge, any poor connections should be further supported.
- Verify that your tense is consistent throughout. Slipping between past and present tense is a very common mistake that’s extremely jarring to the reader.
- Make sure your vocabulary is varied. If you’ve said “in addition” for the last three sentences, try changing it up. If you’ve used the word “beautiful” 11 times in a document, a thesaurus can’t hurt. Just make sure you know the exact definition and connotations of any word you use and make sure it conveys the intended meaning.
- Clarify everything. Ambiguous word choices and sentence structures should be eliminated.
- Ensure that all your reference information is there. Conversely, do not cite something that does not appear in the work. Make sure the in-text citations match the ones in the reference page.
- If you find that you’re making major changes, stop proofreading and edit instead. If you’re writing, you’ll probably introduce new errors into your document. Edit first, and make the big changes. Then go back to proofreading.
- Take off your proofreading hat and walk away for a bit. Drink a cup of coffee, or step outside into the sunshine. At the very least, look at something far away from your desk for no less than 40 seconds. Then, take a deep breath, and get your proofreading hat back on. It’s time for your second pass. Don’t fret. If you’ve done a good job with your first pass, then you can take off your proofreading hat really soon. It’s sad, I know.
Complete a Second Pass
- Use an automated spell-checker. Know when to accept changes and when to ignore them. Remember that the computer is not always correct.
- Format the document according to your preferred style guide. This includes margins, headers, paragraphs, spacing, font type and size, etc. It’s finicky work, but it’s important.
- Double-check your spacing. It’s very common for writers to accidentally space twice between words and sentences. Words should always have only one space between them, and a single space between sentences is quickly becoming the norm. Check your style guide to be sure which is preferred here, but whatever your decision, be consistent.
- Make sure to quadruple-check important parts of the document. It’s embarrassing when a word is spelled wrong in the title or the conclusion.
- Read the entire document one more time. Does it flow well? How does it look as a whole? Do you need to make any final changes?
Talk about hat hair! It’s time to hang up your trusty proofreading hat for another day. In the meantime, you can always learn to improve your proofreading skills with ProofreadingCamp. Or, hey, if you think you look weird in hats, we know some people with a collection of hats who would be happy to do your proofreading for you.
Image source: Andrew E. Weber/Stocksnap.io