Sitting down to write is one thing. Sending it across for consumption is another. And making sure that your copy is clean and error-free – that is the most important thing of all.
For a good piece of writing that offers the impact it was designed to have, you should first make sure that there are no mistakes! Good flow of language, crisp words and catchy phrases, and even timely humorous touches can get lost and overlooked if the copy you send out is pockmarked with errors − the direct result of a not-so-thorough proofread.
So, let’s get down to business. Let us try to make a list of strategies or methods we can follow to avoid those unsightly kinks in our writing armours.
HERE ARE 7 BRILLIANT WAYS TO GET THE JOB DONE.
1. First of all, just focus
More than anything at all, proofreading is an activity that requires you to concentrate, very hard. While you can rely on spell check for some of your mistakes, to spot other than those in spelling, you need your complete and utter focus on the job at hand. Make sure to be in a quiet place, where no one will distract or disturb you and your proofreading activity will not disturb anyone.
For example, no matter where I am, I have found that it always helps me if I make it a point to log out of Facebook, put my phone on vibrate mode, and shut down notification alerts for mails, messages, updates etc., to start with. Cutting out the thought of temptation or distraction is always a good place to start.
2. Get a glass of water
No, you really don’t have to. What you could do, however, is take a breather after you are done writing your piece. Don’t feel forced to steamroll into the proofreading activity as soon you have typed in your last period.
Stop and do something else for a bit…surf a little, take a walk around the room, check your WhatsApp messages, or maybe even get a glass of water… hydrating is always good! Come back to your piece a little later and then attack it with overwhelming force to proofread the errors out of it.
I have found that if I proofread my writing, right after typing it out, I am still so in the throes, so to speak, of the content I have just written, that I am sometimes not able to catch even glaring mistakes. They might be staring at me right in the face but I cannot detect them, as I am still caught up in the way my article flows.
I am still at the big picture level and too rushed to look at the small issues and brush out the tiny errors. These could be in the form of a wrong comma placement or skipping of a word that MS Word has not caught, or using a long sentence where two short ones would have read better. I have found that the less rushed I am and the longer the time between the writing and the proofreading, the fresher my mind is. This translates directly into a better final output.
3. Show them the finger
Relax! I know this sounds much more scandalous than what I am going to talk about now. What I mean is, use your finger to track your words during proofreading. Though it might seem child-like, there is no shame in this finger-tracking process. It is a very useful tool to focus on your work with the keenest of eyes. I highly recommend you to go ahead and try it.
I have found that when I am merely reading my copy for mistakes, my eyes generally look for the big words and important parts of sentences. I end up not concentrating on each word separately. This means that a lot of the copy goes practically unread, as my automatic scanning leaves much space for estimation and supposition. The best part of this method is that the forced convergence of tracking and visual acuity slows me down considerably. This, consequently, makes it easier for me to focus on the words better and catch mistakes like a boss.
4. Shout it out
Again, no. You do not need to yell. Just say the words aloud. Do it in a way you can hear yourself clearly. It is easy if you are home alone and run no risk of disturbing anyone. It might be a little difficult if you are in a common space, like in an office or at a coffee shop. Then, you need to get creative and create your own personal space, if you want to avoid looking like you are missing a screw, talking to yourself! Close the door to your office cabin or step outside to the terrace or pavement or even the restroom or custodian’s closet, with your copy and read it aloud to yourself.
If you think you feel silly doing it, I insist that you try it at least once. I am sure by the end of the process you will be able to figure out for yourself how exactly helpful this method is.
I, for one, always do it. This is because when I read my copy aloud, I make sure to take my own sweet time to enunciate each word with a lot of care. This helps me track many kinds of errors, such as mistakes in placement of commas, apostrophes, ‘em’ and ‘en’ dashes, etc. Detecting errors in spelling becomes a rather effortless task when you are hovering a little over each word while reading it aloud.
You should understand that the best way to read out our copy would be to read it the way you think your reader will read it – that is, minus your voice intonations or modulations to specify feelings and emotions associated with your copy.
Become a robot for a while and read like one. My own flat, robotic reading, in which I stop only at basic pauses like periods and commas, helps me to identify any pertinent punctuation sign that is missing or is placed erroneously. Removing such errors means removing misperception of the end-user. Correcting these mistakes can go a long way in making your copy more accessible to your reader.
5. Turn it inside out
So how do you do that with a piece of copy on the screen? Read backward. Read from the last word and work your way to the beginning of the first word of your copy.
This makes sure that you are focusing on each word, separately and you are also weighing each word distinctly to, kind of, measure it somewhat – its correctness of spelling, its aptness of usage, and its suitability in the sentence.
If you think this is a weird thing to do, trust me when I say it is not. This is because I have found from experience, that when I do this, that is read my copy backward, I am forced to stop at the beginning of each sentence and look at the sentence again, this time reading forward. This means I end up reading each sentence twice!
The first time, that is when I am reading backward, I am not getting distracted by the meaning of the sentence at all. I am looking at the words, just the words. The second time, when I am reading forward, right after reading backward, my brain tries to immediately look for the meaning of the words I just read, by putting them in sequence, to make meaning out of the whole sentence. This makes my chances of spotting errors doubly effective, while also forcing me to re-read my article. This method is amazingly effectual for detection of mistakes in spellings, oddly or wrongly placed words in a phrase, repetitions, and formatting that might be slightly off.
6. Try something new
When you must proofread your own article, it is very difficult to provide a fresh set of eyes with fresh vision, because it is only you and your copy. So, the next best thing to do would be to make the type on your screen look a little different to your own eyes. Either change the font or the size or the color, or maybe zoom in a little bit, such that you can concentrate on each word and sentence at one time and not skip anything in the copy.
I, for example, always zoom in while proofreading on screen, and better still, when I have access to a printer, I make sure to print it out and read it aloud, to myself. This helps me see the copy on screen in an unfamiliar way. My eyes are more open to mistakes as the copy now looks different and my brain approaches it differently. I have found this method extremely helpful when I am rushing against a deadline and do not have enough time to proofread the copy in the most thorough way that I would like.
7. Making a list and checking it twice
Yes, list making can be quite a crucial activity before you start writing. Everyone has some personal areas of weakness while writing – certain spellings, placement of punctuation marks, use of which and that in sentences, substituting one homonym for another, and so on. Making a list of these and keeping it handy always help.
I usually keep a piece of paper with my personal list of worry areas stuck to the board at my workstation. This helps me run a quick eye through the list and then check for the related issues in my copy, before I send the article off.
Others things to remember
While the points above are some of the broader techniques, which you could follow while checking your copy, there are some other issues you need to remember, no matter what you are writing, when you are writing, or how and why you are doing so.
Using spell check: Even if you had been correcting all the red squiggly lines while you had been writing, please remember to run the spell check before you start proofreading. I have found that I sometimes miss a few spelling errors on the way, during my rushed race to the finishing line. In these scenarios, spell check is always a blessing.
Checking cases, fonts, formatting: Check the cases of your heading and subheads, the font sizes that you have been asked to stick to or that you have chosen, the paragraph indents (if required), and formatting of your paragraphs with proper line spacing, and the like.
Being careful with homonyms: This is one of the trickiest areas for anyone who writes. These are words with similar spellings and pronunciations, but are completely different in their meanings. If you are not careful, a mistake in homonym placement might result in utter disaster. I always pay a lot of attention to these words and make sure to double check online, if I am in any doubt about their usage.
Using apostrophes and contractions: Many writers, more often that they realize, make mistakes with placement of apostrophes and related contractions. For example, you might find articles in which writers have used ‘their’ for ‘they’re’ or ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ and so on. For any discerning reader, such mistakes are unpardonable and very off-putting, as they break the flow of their reading.
So, make sure you are using the right contraction, with the apostrophe at the right place, if required. I have seen that most serious articles do better without any kind of contraction, that is, I prefer using ‘they are’ instead of ‘they’re’, or ‘you are’ instead of ‘you’re’, and so on. So, I can avoid the issue altogether. But in case of informal articles or copies, I make it a point to search for apostrophe signs in my copy and double check their correctness of placement.
Despite following these points to a ‘T’, there might still be errors. So, always read your copy, a third time, if possible a fourth. Remember, the more number of times you read, the better your chances of catching any error.
Hope this article was helpful. If you have some more points to share with us on the same topic, please feel free to mention them in the comments section!
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