Hints for Better Proofreading

Proofreading – so much more than spell checking!

 “Eye don’t knead too no how two spell; I’ll just yews my spell checker!”

Yeah, Right!  My spell checker or English grammar tools never even blinked at that sentence.  We all know that there is so much more to proofreading than checking spelling. 

Develop the habit of proof reading all your documents before the final print run!  I have lined up a few proofreading tricks – and some things to look for in the process! 

        Read the copy several times.  Look for different types of errors during each scan.  Read everything once for content .  Proofread important or technical material at least twice.

        Read the copy out loud or to someone and listen for missing words.

        Read one line at a time, covering future lines to avoid reading ahead.  Read again from right to left or bottom to top to spot spelling or typographical errors.

        Once you find one error look carefully for nearby errors.  

        Read titles and first lines carefully.

        Look at the copy upside down to check spacing.

        Don’t hesitate to ask someone else to read your copy.

        When you can - proofread statistical data with a partner. 

Common mistakes to be on the alert for:

        Check spelling.  Always keep a spelling dictionary and a grammar guide within easy reach.  Computer "spell-checkers" can wreck havoc with your document. 

        Especially be alert for homonyms.  Watch for words such as to, two, and too or their and there!  

        We often use similar words by mistake: than/then; affect/effect; not/now; if/of.  

        Check all punctuation. Review all sentence endings, quotations and parentheses.

        Guard against misplaced titles.

        Be aware of the consistency of all headings, subheadings.  Check font, size, alignment, underlines and capitalization styles.  Set your report rules upfront!  It is always best to have a personal style.

        Be certain that all illustrations have the correct notation.

        Match and review all “Table of Contents”, cross references, and indexes that referenced page numbers match.

        Guard page number sequencing – in book style reports be certain that all left pages are even numbers.

        Check numbered and alphabetized lists for correct sequencing, out of order or missed numbers.

Keep your work area organized and comfortable, proofread at various times during the day and avoid interruptions during your proofreading time!  Hang up a sign on your office door if necessary! 

Top 10 Spelling Errors

I love this list!  It is a list of common errors that stump even the best of writers.  Memorize these and have incredible power with your writing skills!  Sorry to all the well educated college folks but I see these errors all over the place EVEN in published articles! 

1. It's and Its

It's is a contraction meaning "it is" while its is the possessive form of it.   This one is tricky – since the apostrophe in all other instances is the used in the possessive form.

It's never a good idea to get between a dog and its favorite chew toy.

2. You, Your, and You're

Since all three words are spelled correctly, spell checkers won't flag them. Consistent proof reading is the key to identifying these problems  - do not count on your spell checker! 

Anomaly sentence: Don't delay! Place you order now! We offer free shipping if your in the United States.

3. Lose and Loose

Loose can be used an adjective, adverb, or a verb: 

bulletUnattended children ran loose through the toy store.
bulletShe hated the mail carrier and regularly loosed her dogs on him.
bulletThat group of teens has a pretty loose reputation.

But lose is always a verb:

         His mother told him to lose the attitude or else.

         The team never believed that they'd lose the game.

         I was so happy to lose the extra 20 pounds I'd been carrying since the baby.

4. Compliment and Complement

These two homophones trip up even the most careful writers.  I am the biggest “hater “ of Homophones – Damn the English language! 

If you like your mother's new wallpaper, you'll compliment her on her decorating skills.

Complement has meanings in grammar, medicine, mathematics, and music, but it's most commonly used to indicate that something completes a set or matches it well.

When you compliment your mother's wallpaper, you might note how well the soft green color complements the off-white carpet.

5. Principal and Principle

A principle is a basic truth, policy, or action. People dedicate their lives and careers to upholding principles of truth and justice. Principals are people who uphold standards of good behavior in schools.

A school's principal should always stick to her principles.

Remember children: the principal is your pal!

6. Except and Accept

Except connotes exclusion or something left out, like an exception to the rule.

Accept means that you're receiving something, joining a group, entering into an agreement, etc.

I'd accept your romantic marriage proposal - except for one problem. I'm already married.

7. Affect and Effect

Affect is a verb: it acts upon something, someone, or an emotion, while effect is a noun.

The discovery that his wife could control the weather affected her husband rather badly.

The so-called "Wealth Effect" affected total consumer spending and debt levels far more than economists anticipated.

8. Peak and Pique

A peak is the top of a mountain or the highest point in something's development or intensity. Pique refers to an emotion - usually anger or curiosity.

In a fit of pique, the rock climber hurled his partner's favorite harness off the highest peak.

9. Assure, Insure and Ensure

The best explanation comes from the Dictionary.com site:

Assure, ensure, and insure all mean "to make secure or certain." Only assure is used with reference to a person in the sense of "to set the mind at rest": assured the leader of his loyalty. Although ensure and insure are generally interchangeable, only insure is now widely used in American English in the commercial sense of "to guarantee persons or property against risk."

I assure you that the insured property owner is taking steps to ensure your safety.

10. Moot and Mute

How often have you heard someone insist: "it's a mute point!" Well, if it's a topic that's incapable of making a sound, they're correct. But more often they're really trying to say that it's a moot point - or one that's irrelevant.

Since the point was already moot, Abby stood mutely in front of the teacher.

Special Bonus Error! Me, Myself and I

You see a lot of usage errors with these three words. Generations of schoolchildren grew used to constant correction about the use of me in sentences. While most learned that "Bob and me want to go" is incorrect, they never learned the correct usage of the word me.

Would you please call Bob or me before you leave? Is perfectly clear and acceptable.

Yet, well-meaning people substitute either I or the reflexive pronoun myself instead. How often do you hear or read something like this:

Would you please call Bob or myself before you leave?

Yuck! Take Bob out of the sentence and you're either asking the person to "call I before you leave" or "call myself before you leave." Neither one sounds or looks very attractive.

Don't be afraid to use the word me in sentences, but take care to use it correctly!

Unfortunately, even the best spell checker won't find these errors. Use NetMechanic's HTML Toolbox to find misspelled words, coding errors, and code that may cause browser compatibility problems. It's an easy-to-use online tool you can use to quickly identify and fix most problems on your page.


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