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Pj’s Proofreading Tips

3rd March 2023

I must confess that when it comes to proofreading, I’m one of those people that rather enjoys it. There’s something cathartic about it and, honestly, it’s probably one of the least stressful sides of my job. Nothing I like more than to shut myself from the world with a cup of coffee (and most likely a sausage roll) sun streaming through the window onto my desk covered in potted plants and admittedly probably crumbs, with a solid bit of copy to get my nerdy lit grad cogs firing. In fact, I like it even more when I’m away from my desk somewhere new. I find the buzz of a cafe rather calming, and the white noise around me sort of cocoons me into an astute and comfortable focus. How very digital nomad of me.

It obviously helps if I’m reading about something that interests me, but I don’t actually mind if I’m reading something rather dry and repetitive, like product copy for plastic mouldings, to give a real life example, or website T’s and C’s or a cookie policy. Blurgh, even for me they are quite boring! Anyhow, whenever you proofread anything, no matter what it is, you should set yourself up to win. It can be hard to concentrate on small details for long periods of time, and it’s easy to lose focus. That’s when you’re seriously on danger of missing something very important… (Ah, good, you are paying attention.) 

Proofreading 101

Do you find it hard to concentrate when it comes to proofreading? Or is it just not your strong point? Maybe I can assist. I’ve listed some top tips that I adhere to, maybe they can help you become everyone’s fave proofer.

  1. Biggest one. Get rid of any distractions.

    The main one being, your phone, or anything for that matter that might ping, buzz, waz or ding dong. You need to get in the zone without constant interruptions or temptations to take your eyes off what you’re doing. I’ll admit I’m one of the biggest culprits for being reactive to messages, regardless if it’s my phone, an email, a slack message or a Scoro notification. Get everything on mute, and lean into the proofing zone. Once you’re there, it’s actually blissfully zen, swear down.

  2. Get comfortable. 

    For us, we don’t care what that look like and it will absolutely look different for everyone. For me, I’m oddly comfortable to work in most places and anyone that knows me thinks it’s comical how I can shut myself off from the world around me, no drama. I can lose myself in my thoughts, which can be both a blessing and a curse. (I get pens chucked at me a lot). What does it take for you to get in the zone? It might be cancelling out your surroundings with some beefy headphones, or maybe sitting on a beanbag in another room somewhere.
  1. Read often.

    I don’t just mean at work, I mean personally. It doesn’t matter if you read trash fiction (guilty), music reviews or the bible. To get good at editing, or proofing, you need to be a really great reader. My creative writing professors used to say, “The more you read, the better you will write.” To fine tune that eye for finer detail, exposure to lots of literature, of all different sorts, is only going to benefit your proofing skills.

  2. Stay hydrated.

    Have a drink next to you. Being dehydrated can make you tired and make your eyes dry. Lube up them peepers.

  3. Block book some dedicated time.

    Leave enough time so you can do it all in one sitting and without getting pulled into other tasks. Or, if you’re dealing with something hefty, split it up into clear, digestible sections so if you need a break, you can come back to it with a fresh (hydrated) brain. This is so you can stay in tune with the tone and flow of it all, and will ensure that the structure of the narrative you are reading is strong.

  4. Don’t ever be afraid to use a thesaurus or dictionary!

    Knowledge is power after all, and there’s no harm in admitting you don’t fully know what a word means. Don’t just gloss over it if you don’t recognise it. It might be that your colleague is really smart and has a wider vocab. No shame, why not learn what it means? Or it might be that they aimed hard and missed. Again, no shame, we’re all about expanding our personal lexis. There you go, put that in your pipe and look that one up. It’s also worth double checking if it makes sense in the context of the piece or sentence… does it have the right connotations, and can you suggest something more suited if not. Let’s help each other out.

  5. Context is everything.

    Make sure you know where this piece is going and who it’s aimed at, don’t just tackle it with no background understanding. It really does make all the difference. Context doesn’t just inform tone of voice and style, it also affects punctuation. I am so often taking out ellipses out of copy because it’s just over used, cliche and informal. Save it for lighthearted, conversational blog posts…

  6. Scrub up on punctuation.

    Not to patronise you, but do you understand when and how to use certain punctuation marks? Honestly? Best to be clear. Especially when it comes to those pesky apostrophes. If you’re not sure, look it up. And be confident. If you don’t learn you’ll keep making the same mistakes, and proofreading won’t get any easier.

  7. Be honest.

    Don’t be rude, but be honest. Proofing isn’t just about spotting errors, it’s spotting room for improvement in terms of content and narrative. If you get half way through a blog post for example that is meant to be fun, innovative and a little bit ‘punny’ but actually, what you’ve been presented with is drier than the Ghandi’s flip flop, then it might be worth politely suggesting the writer re-visits it. It’s constructive criticism.

Proof it twice.

Always. And even better, get a fresh pair of eyeballs to proof it AGAIN after you have. You might be a pro, but you’re also human and likely to make a mistake every now and then. Or when sentences get complex, it might be better to get a second opinion anyway, it’s not always black and white!

When it comes to proofreading your preferred setup is often down to personal preference. Take the time to find what works for you and when you do you’ll be everyone’s go to for a cheeky proofread.

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