Communication skills

Tips for self-editing and proofreading

- September 3, 2008 2 MIN READ

As most soloists can’t afford to pay a proofreader to edit their writing, the occasional typo is inevitable. However, to make sure your final copy is as good as possible, here are some tips for self-editing and proofreading.

Even professional proofreaders miss things! I used to cringe for days over mistakes until I realised if I continued cringing, I’d end up permanently stooped. That’s not to say I like mistakes, I don’t. But we’re just human.

Most of our clients forgive us our occasional lapses. However, problems occur when you’re trying to win new clients or have an uneasy relationship with a client.

In these cases, your grammatical mistakes and typos matter. When I was facilitating a business writing course once, a woman came back after a break and said: “I’ve just received an email from a barrister. I didn’t feel comfortable about his advice and this email confirmed it. He used a wrong apostrophe! I’ll never trust him again.”

Ouch. It was just an apostrophe!

So how can we make our final copy as good as it’s going to get? Here are seven tips for self-editing and proofreading.

1. Take a break. If you edit your work straight after you’ve finished writing, you don’t see it clearly. Any break is helpful, but overnight is best as then you approach your work with fresh eyes.

2. Use Spell Check – and please set the default to Australian spelling. I think it’s worth using Microsoft’s grammar check, even though it’s hopeless, as it will occasionally pick up something basic, such as a subject-verb agreement, you’ve missed.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

3. Read your work through five times for a Rolls Royce edit:

  • once for meaning (Is it clear?)
  • twice to change grammar, words etc. (Is there a better way of saying this?)
  • once for layout, headings, hyperlinks, tables etc.
  • one last time for anything you’ve missed.

I realise this is a bit over-the-top, but I want to stress that one quick read-through is not enough and you edit more thoroughly if you look for different things on separate readings.

4. When self-editing the second and third times concentrate on:

  • sentences – are they too long?
  • words – are any unnecessary?
  • grammar
  • consistency
  • unnecessary repetitions
  • typos
  • layout.

5. If you’re editing on screen, proofread a hard copy as well. Unfortunately when self-editing and proofreading we don’t see things as clearly on the screen.

6. Some people find it helpful to read:

  • word-by-word
  • with a ruler underneath each line
  • aloud
  • with another person, where one person reads and the other follows the text
  • in reverse order, i.e. they either read point 7 before point 6 or literally read sentences in reverse order.

7. Ask a friend or colleague to read your work for you. But choose someone with that eye for detail – not all people have that skill.

With self-editing and proofreading, you may even pick up that rogue apostrophe.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"