Did I Really Miss That Typo? How to Proofread Your Own Work
My job as a tech editor at Wix keeps me pretty busy, but recently I worked on a family project to publish a Holocaust survivor’s story. I was writing the captions when I saw this typo: “It’s important for me to tell my story so that these atrocities happen again.” Did you catch that? The word never is missing! And 3 proofreaders, including a professional editor, missed it!
Sometimes our brains will fill in the blank or gloss over an error and still understand the meaning, without ever realizing that there was a mistake. Think about those typo-filled paragraphs flying around online that most of us can still read. But as professional writers we have to be careful with the content we publish. We want it to look professional—and typos never look professional.
If you’re a writer working with a team of other writers, sending error-free content out for review increases your credibility among your peers. On the other hand, for those of you who are lone writers on a team of developers, product managers and operations people, you don’t want to count on colleagues to proofread your work. And if they do, like when a developer points out your typo, it can be seriously embarrassing to you—the professional writer on the team. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. So accept the challenge to always edit your own work.
Here are some tips on how to proofread your own work effectively:
Read your work aloud word by word. You may be surprised how vocalizing the words helps you catch mistakes that your eyes and your brain often automatically and unintentionally correct. If you can get someone to listen, even better. It will help ensure you read slowly and clearly.
Print out a copy of what you’re proofreading and read it with a pencil or pen, focusing on each word. Yes, even in 2018 you should still revert to good ol’ pen and paper. While we’re used to reading on screens all day, when it comes to proofreading, nothing works like the printed page.
To catch typos, read your content backward so you’re reading each word independently. Again, your brain will be less likely to autocorrect. Similarly, you may want to read your writing starting from the last paragraph and working your way up to the intro. Since we tend to edit from the top down, we often do better editing at the beginning of a text and then peter out our careful eye by the time we reach the conclusion.
If you have a style guide, make sure you stick to it. For example, does your company use the Oxford comma? Or do they skip out on the comma before the and in a list? Check that your capitalization is correct and in line with your brand guidelines for every title, sub-title and product name.
Pay special attention to these words and make sure you’re using the right one: > there – their – they’re > affect – effect > its – it’s > accept – except > you’re – your
It may seem obvious, but take a moment to check the spelling and accuracy of all product, company and feature names. In many companies, these can change fairly often. A feature may have been called one thing during development, but upon release the name can be changed. If this happens, be sure you update all mentions of the feature.
Proofread every version until publication. You may have thoroughly proofread your first draft, but chances are that many changes were made along the way. Recheck each version and do a final proofread before you go live.
One fundamental secret to success when it comes to proofreading your own work is to give yourself enough time for these reviews. I still cringe when I think about that typo in the Holocaust survivor’s memoir and what would have happened if I hadn’t caught it. Remember that even if you’re under a tight deadline and feeling pressured, the payoff of being more professional is always worth that extra proofread. It really does take effort to seem effortless.
Annie Landa Rosen, Technical Writer & Editor at Wix