Proofreading tips for lone writers

"New Zealand" "Lake Tekapo"  "South Island"Once or twice in my career as a technical writer I’ve been lucky enough to work with an editor. But often we technical writers work alone and have to proofread our own writing.

My grandfather was a newspaper editor, so I learned at a young age, that spelling mistakes and grammatical errors were unacceptable. I guess that’s why I have a highly-tuned radar for typos. But I admit I miss things too. Here are a few tricks to help you avoid the embarrassment of poor proofreading:

1. Read the document backwards.

Start with the last paragraph first. Because you’re reading it out of order, you’re more likely to spot the typos and spelling mistakes.

2. Read the document aloud to yourself.

If you haven’t tried this before, you might be surprised. Even muttering it to yourself under your breath works (ignore the looks you get from anyone nearby!)

3. Double-check the headings.

It’s notoriously difficult to catch the mistakes in headings. I look at headings up to five times to be extra sure there are no glaring misspellings.

4. Pay special attention to words that sound the same with different spellings.

Can you imagine my embarrassment at using the wrong spelling for palette?

  • palette – a color palette used in a software application
  • palate – the roof of your mouth
  • pallet – a low platform used in warehouses for storing goods
  • pellet – a small round ball, such as pet food

5. Learn where and where not to put apostrophes.

It’s one of those things we often miss, especially in headings. Apostrophes are used to show possession and to replace letters missing in contractions. If you’re confused, read this simple resource from the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

6. When you think you’re done, read the whole piece through one more time.

Preview your writing and reread the entire thing in the final format. For blog posts, that’s easy – simply preview the post in a browser. For other documents, try generating a PDF (or Help file) and read the document as it will look to your audience.

7. Keep a checklist.

If all else fails, keep a list of the things that are particular issues for you. If you always mix up there/their, put that on your checklist.

Your turn: Do you have any tricks for proofreading your own writing? Leave a comment below.


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