We’ve all done it. We write up that important report, that crucial email, that major essay, and when we reread it later (usually when it’s returned to us with mark-ups), we see them – proofreading errors. We’ve doubled a word; we’ve left out a word; we’ve accidently inserted “Seattle” where we meant “settle.” And then, well, we feel embarrassed, and we probably should. If we go by my dad’s maxim – “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” – then anything worth writing should be proofread carefully.
Here are the various reactions that I know of when people find typos in a text:
Teacher – The pen, sometimes red, comes out and errors are marked. Occasionally, when this happens at the end of a big stack of essays, a little flare of anger can be seen in the teacher’s corrections.
Potential Employer – The cover letter or resume heads precipitously toward the recycle bin. Who wants to hire someone who doesn’t have good attention to detail?
Potential Publisher Editor – The manuscript goes immediately into the slush pile which will, if lucky, be read by an intern who is just learning about writing or, if unlucky, will immediately be recycled.
No one likes to find typos. They make writers look lazy, sloppy, or uneducated. So here are a few tips to help you proofread.
1. Read your paper over again. Many, many people (including myself on occasion) write something and never reread it. This is the first defense against mistakes.
2. Run your word processor’s spell and grammar check. These tools are not perfect, and we still have to use our brains – just because the computer suggests “defiantly” does not mean it’s the right word when you mean “definitely” – but they do help catch a lot of common errors. For example, I cannot spell “occasion” to save my life, so spell-check saves me every time (including this one.)
3. Read your paper out loud and backwards sentence by sentence. This method disrupts what your brain expects to see on the page and allows you to catch errors more easily.
4. Have someone else read your paper. Any reader can help you catch basic mistakes or places where your writing is confusing.
Give yourself and your work the time it deserves and proofread carefully. We’ll all appreciate it.