10 Handy Tips on Proof-Reading your own work

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Proof-reading our work is one of the most common ways of ensuring that our writing is quality-checked. Most of us do it naturally when we write short emails, letters or reports. But then there are the big documents – the 1,000 page report that just HAS to be perfect. What a burden!

I’ve got some handy tips for proof-reading your work before you send it on.

  1. Give yourself a deadline. Nothing motivates more than this. Proof-reading can be dull; I mean real dull. So we might put it off for ‘later’ – later, of course, being a time when we are busy, stressed and not in the mood. So give yourself a close deadline to complete this task and don’t let it slide!
  2. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Take on the persona of the reader and go through your work with their lens. What do they want from your work? What is their state of mind, or personal motivations? Cast a critical view on your work (not for too long) to check you’re not falling into the ‘traps’ your readers are looking for you to fall in – you know how people like to pick holes in our work!
  3. Start with a holistic view. Artistic painters don’t start on the top-left of the canvas, and work down to the bottom-right. They’re not computers. Neither are you. So read the document through as a whole, first, and narrow down by section/chapter. Fix the ‘big’ issues first and then work through to the smallest detail. Does the document flow? Editing the detail might be a waste of time, if you go on to make big changes to your document
  4. Challenge your writing. Ask yourself “Is that true?” or “Can this be rebuked?” or “Is this factual or opinion based?” or “Can this be simplified?” or “Does this need supporting information?” or “Will this confuse?” Ask yourself the questions that other people will when casting their critical eye over it
  5. Print it for proof-reading, or read it on Kindle. Not always the most ecological option but I find it helps focus my proof-read if I print it, or I read it on my Kindle device. This way, all I am looking at is the text. No distractions. It has a major impact on the quality of my review, and the resulting work
  6. Take a break. Manuscripts can often be so large, it hurts to read it through cover-to-cover. So give yourself a break. Walk away for a while and let the text percolate in your head for a while. I often find that, having slept on the document, I find more quality issues in my writing
  7. Stop editing the document. You can get to a point of diminishing returns on your edit. The more you edit, the longer you have to proof-read. You’ve nailed it (enough) so stop. Perhaps then take a break and come back to only essential edits
  8. Read it to somebody else. You don’t need to read the whole text – just the pieces that you’re struggling with. A fresh pair of eyes (or I should say ears) might be just the ticket! Of course, if the person you’re reading it to has no knowledge of the content, then you should read it through entirely
  9. Save it/track changes. For Pete’s sake, don’t do what I have done before: edited without tracking changes. For 2 main reasons: 1) If you make a mistake then it can be more easily resolved rather than just using ‘Undo’ – which works only in the sequence of changes you’ve made; 2) you have an audit trail so that anybody else reviewing your document can see what you’ve done. Also, save your document regularly – and my advice is to save a fresh version of the document quite often.
  10. Spell-check/grammar-check last of all. Don’t bother spell-checking your work until you’re at the end of your proof-reading session – you only need to do this once before it is sent on. Doing this over and over is a complete waste of time

Do you have more handy hints to help proof-reading our own work?

Then please leave a comment below or start a conversation in my forums.

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