Clean Copy

The Fine Art of Proofreading

Placenta and placemat, the dif­fer­ence is ob­vi­ous. Or maybe not.

Everyone knows how easy it is to mis­spell words, es­pe­cially if you’re go­ing like gang­busters on the com­puter. No mat­ter how good a typ­ist you are, fast fin­gers tend to strike the wrong keys from time to time. And every­one knows how un­pro­fes­sion­al and sloppy it looks when you re­ceive a let­ter, story or email riddled with typos.

Proofreading can be time con­sum­ing and bor­ing. But it’s also ne­ces­sary. Especially if you’re wrap­ping up a re­port for work, sub­mit­ting an art­icle to a magazine or writ­ing the fi­nal draft of The Great Canadian Novel.

And the frus­trat­ing part of it is, once you write some­thing, your eyes and brain tend to see what you meant to write, not what’s ac­tu­ally on the page or mon­it­or screen. So you can read the text over and over and nev­er spot the typos.

Here’s an ex­ample I found at www​.per​fec​ted​it​ing​.com:

Accdrnig to a rs­cheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deo­sn’t mt­taer in waht oredr the lt­teers in a wrod are, the olny iprmo­et­nt tihng is taht the frist and lsat lt­teer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit por­belm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed er­vey lteter by is­tlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Proofreading tips

  • Proof more than once. Professional proofread­ers think noth­ing of go­ing over a doc­u­ment 10 times or more.
  • If you have mis­spelled a word in the past, chances are you will do so again.
  • Read what you see, not what you think is there.
  • Do your proofread­ing in a quiet place where you won’t be distracted.
  • Read the text out loud.
  • After you fin­ish writ­ing some­thing, set it aside and proof it later. (The next day is best.)
  • Have someone else proofread your work; they’ll spot things you miss.
  • Proof a print copy, as well as from the com­puter monitor.

And then there’s spell check, a won­der­ful in­ven­tion that catches mis­spelled words and gram­mat­ic­al er­rors. But it’s not fool­proof. Spell check doesn’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate between here and hear, to and two or bare and bear. As long as a word is spelled cor­rectly, it isn’t highlighted.

And some­times strange things hap­pen. An art­icle I wrote for a news­pa­per con­tained a word that didn’t be­long in it. I didn’t put it there, spell check did. I didn’t no­tice it and neither did the ed­it­or. Luckily, a proofread­er did.

When the ed­it­or called to check the word­ing and read, “The com­pany is present­ing a new line of col­our­ful pla­centas,” I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. The cor­rect word, of course, was placemats. Somehow dur­ing the spell check my hand must have spasmed and clicked pla­centa to re­place the mis­spelled word placemat.

So, if you want people to be en­gaged in your con­tent, not dis­trac­ted by ty­pos and spelling mis­takes, take time to proofread. And yes, that means emails too.