Because your brain is so amazing, you have to trick it into paying more attention when you proofread. This is tough because by the time you’ve written a draft or two, you’re very familiar with your text, and it is easy to skip over errors. For example, last week I wrote sigh when I meant to write sign. Luckily, I spotted it the next day, and I was able to correct it. We all know how useless spell check is to this kind of error.
I know of countless examples of damage done to credibility and clarity from proofreading errors. My favorite one recently was told to me by the admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania. Apparently, one of the applicants wrote he wanted to be accepted into the Wharton School of Bunnies (instead of the Wharton School of Business). I’m sure he’s happy with his new long-eared colleagues.
Each week I sit with writers who are capable of correcting many of their own errors–if they only took the time to proofread and edit carefully. Here are five of the best techniques I know to accomplish a thorough review:
1. Step away from your document for at least an hour, preferably a day.
2. Read it aloud. SLOWLY. Listen for places you stumble.
3. Read the last word first, then the next, and all the way through.
4. Use spell checker but don’t rely on it.
5. Have someone else proofread it too.
The obvious goal of writing is to get people to read what you’ve written. Errors are distracting and create unclear meanings, to say nothing about what they do to your credibility. And by the way, given the Ocean Spray label above, do you think I should check my juice more carefully?
Let me know if you’ve found similar blunders in proofreading. I’d love to hear from you.