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By: Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

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How to Fool-Proof Proofreading to Improve Your Content

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How many times in the past week have you been asked to proofread a document or have you needed to review your own work? We put our proofreading skills to the test multiple times day, whether we realize it or not. It might be the email you re-read before you hit “send.” It’s the 50-page proposal that you pored over line by line. It’s the Facebook post you triple-checked for any typos.

No matter how brief or extensive the content, here are six proofreading techniques and tips that may help you get your messages across with greater accuracy and credibility.

  • Edit first; proofread second. These are two separate writing review processes and steps. Editing is for content, context, consistency and message clarity. Proofreading is more about grammar, punctuation and spelling. While the multi-tasking tendency may be to do both steps concurrently, it’s best to proofread after you’ve edited and are satisfied with the overall content. This lets you better focus on specific words and proofing needs.
  • Proofread from a hard copy versus a computer screen. While it’s often easier to default to proofreading documents online, reviewing a printed version may give you a different perspective and allow you to see typos you might otherwise have missed. Proofreading a hard copy is especially effective for longer documents. Find what works best for you.
  • Don’t rely on spell-check or grammar-check. These are very handy tools, but they don’t always replace traditional proofreading. They may not catch nuances or word usage (e.g., you’re versus your). In addition, keep your reference books and The Associated Press Stylebook nearby, or turn to online support for grammar and fact-checking help.
  •  Get a second set of eyes. If possible, ask a colleague to proofread the document. As authors, we’re often too close to the content, and we can more easily overlook mistakes. Colleagues – especially those who may not be as familiar with the subject matter or copy – can provide a fresh proofing perspective. (This tip works during the editing step, too.)
  •  Read aloud. This ensures you pay closer attention to every word, check the subject-verb agreement, and heed the punctuation marks.
  • Double-check names, numbers and other call-to-action details. It’s easy to transpose numbers or misspell names. Make it a habit to validate times, addresses, phone numbers and other seemingly small items that can create big issues if they’re wrong. You can even call any phone numbers or check these details online.

What tried-and-true techniques would you add to this list?

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