How to Spot a Typo at Nine Yards

Proofreading is like writing’s less glamorous sister: it gets less time, attention and far fewer dates to the prom. Okay, so that comparison got away from me, but the point still stands.

Nobody ever gets that excited about the topic and yet proofreading is a crucial skill. While this has always been the case, it’s especially true these days given the emphasis on quality content in the world of search.

With that in mind, here are some tips I have cobbled together; feel free to leave your own in the comments section. And, of course, berate me if you see any typos – my only request is that your insults are properly spelt.

Realize that proofreading isn’t editing

Someone has asked you to ‘look over’ something they’ve written. Before you whip out the red pen, ask whether they want you to proof or edit. There’s an ocean between the two activities...or if not an ocean, a formidable pond.

Proofreading – Fixing any spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and sentences that are too long and make you want to punch yourself in the face. ← Like that one?

Editing – Making changes based on an editorial judgment of the piece’s overall quality. This may include the coherence of argument, as well as formatting, length, use of images, etc.

In this post, I’m specifically talking about proofreading. If editing is something you’d like to hear more about, holler at me in the comments section.

Figure out the best time of day

Writing and proofreading call for two distinct modes of thinking. Personally, I tend to be much more focused in the morning so this is when I proofread. By the afternoon, after several cups of coffee, a chaotic mix of thoughts are rambling around my head so out comes the notebook.

Write drunk, edit sober.  

~ Hemingway

Of course everyone is different. Our Creative team made this piece for Podio. Freud wrote between 10pm and midnight, for example, while Kafka got busy with the inkpad in the early hours of the morning.

To pay their fines?

Be kind to your eyes

Reading tiny font is a form of torture in some countries. Okay so that’s a horrible lie, but it’s pretty agonising. Get a super-sized screen, whack up the font and off you go.

Even better, print out the document. While there’s no hard evidence of this, most proofreaders agree that it’s easier to spot errors on paper. We have a tendency to skim-read text on screens – not only does online copy feel more ephemeral, it’s harder to focus on individual sentences. Proofreading a physical page, for example, allows you to conceal the next section so you are forced to work line-by-line.

Read it aloud

Or in my case, mutter it under your breath like a mad woman on the night bus. Only through doing this can you get a sense of the flow – identifying the words that ‘snag’ or the sentences that go on too long.

                                           The ‘everyman politician’

Decide on stylistic stuff

British or American English? Does ‘internet’ need a capital letter? Go nuts with hyphens? These are all questions that your blog editor will likely be able to answer (should such a person exist). Otherwise, the most important thing is to be consistent throughout your writing.

You can change the language of your spell-check in Microsoft Word under the ‘Review’ tab or under ‘File’ in Google docs. 

There are also tools like Grammarly and the Hemingway App that can flag up potential typos.

At last, a nudist restaurant

Let it breathe

Despite being well-worn advice, it bears repeating: when proofreading your own writing, take some time away between the two activities. Then it’s hello fresh eyes! (And, hopefully, goodbye typos.)

The cause of the production problem?

Own the language

You don’t always have to follow all the grammar rules you were taught at school. Instead, make punctuation work for you and your reader. I wrote more about that here.

Well, that’s it from me. Got any advice on proofreading? Please share your own hints, tips and frightening stories of misplaced apostrophes below.  

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