Startlingly large numbers of businesses seem to rely heavily on Microsoft Word’s spellchecker alone to catch errors in their professional communications. This can be dangerous practice, as mistakes are frequently missed by machines, particularly where the mistake is more to do with the grammar than spelling.
Poor punctuation, grammar and spelling in your business writing can reflect badly on your business, so here are some pointers for effective proofreading.
Read a hardcopy
It’s notoriously difficult to pick up errors when reading a document on a computer screen, never more so than when your eyes are tired and your patience is waning.
To give you the best chance of noticing errors, print your document off and check through a hard copy, underlining errors as you go with a pen with strongly contrasting ink. Once you have finished, correct the errors on your electronic copy and then repeat the process once more to ensure new mistakes haven’t been created.
Get a second opinion
When reading over your own work, it is very easy to read what you expect to see on the page, rather than what is actually written. This means that your own proofreading may miss simple errors. To prevent this, have another person check through the finished document once you have read it yourself.
Don’t forget, even if there aren’t any errors as such, a fresh pair of eyes can also help you iron out ambiguities and awkward phrases.
Not every proofreading mistake is a mistake if viewed in isolation, which makes some errors particularly hard to spot. For example, there’s nothing wrong with the word “synthesise”, but if it appears again later in your copy as “synthesize”, you have a problem.
This type of error is most likely to happen if you have more than one contributor to the same document, or you are drawing information from several sources before editing. To help reduce confusion, it’s useful to put a company ‘style guide’ in place which sets out the preferred form for all debatable spellings and grammatical constructions. If that sounds like too much work, it’s possible to buy style guides right off the shelf to adopt as your own.
Use ‘track changes’
If you’re working on a long document, or passing it to someone else, a great tool for those using Microsoft Word is the ‘track changes’ function. This allows you to keep a record of what changes have been made and then accept or reject them at the review stage. This can be useful if you feel certain corrections might be up for debate.
Track changes can also be used if you need to make last minute additions to a document that has already been proofed as it will highlight clearly which areas are new and therefore need to be checked again.
Check it again once it’s in position
Sometimes, errors only present themselves when the copy is in place on a leaflet or online. If you use a printing service, ask for proofing copies and check through the final documents you receive back before approving the full print run.
It’s not unheard of for printers to create new errors such as printing pages in the wrong order, so don’t assume that the copy you sent is the copy that appears in print. Similarly, cutting and pasting by web designers isn’t foolproof, so check through all your copy once your design has uploaded it but before you allow anything to go live.
If in doubt, consult a professional
If accuracy is vital for your communications and you don’t have a colleague or friend you trust to weed out any errors, it may be worth having a reputable proofreader go over the finished document. A professional proofreading firm will go through your text with a fine-tooth comb and could provide that vital reassurance you need before letting the printers roll.