The first step is to understand the difference between 'Reading' and 'Proof-reading'.
'Reading' gives us knowledge, information and entertainment. 'Proof-reading' on the other hand is a mechanical process focused more on the medium rather than the message. Its sole objective is to search out errors and correct them.
Proof-reading is easy, when you know what you are looking for. Error patterns vary from writer to writer. Lookout for errors, and make note of those recurring frequently.
What do you look for?
- Incorrect spelling
- Missing punctuation
- Wrong grammar
- Bad sentence structure
- Repetition of words, phrases or ideas
- Errors of fact
- Poor Page formatting
- Misalignment of matter and spaces
- Wrong references (Page, Picture, Index etc.)
Common errors in Proof-reading:
- Spelling mistakes often related to homophones (words which sound the same but are spelt differently as in 'Some' and 'Sum')
- Misuse/omission of the possessive apostrophe. (Its and It’s)
- Superfluous vocabulary or redundant verbiage which adds nothing to the meaning ('To meet up with'; 'To miss out on' etc.)
- Colloquial expressions instead of academic ones. ('Go down' in place of 'Reduce' or 'Decrease')
- Leaving sentences unfinished or fragmented.
- Joining two sentences with a comma instead of separating them using a full stop.
- Getting confused between British and American spellings.
Tips to Good Proof-reading:
- DO NOT rely on the computer’s spell-check feature. It only checks the spelling, not the contextual aptness of the word. The computer is a mindless machine. Use your brain to override its inherent shortcomings.
- Move the cursor along each line of the text being proofread. It helps you see, read and examine carefully.
- When in doubt, refer to the dictionary.
- Proof-read at least one hard copy of the text. What you miss on the monitor may show up on paper.
- Avoid linguistic variations. Stick to any one of the accepted spelling and punctuation conventions. Make sure to set your word processor’s language accordingly.
- Leave a time gap between two proof-reading sessions. This will help refresh the mind and sharpen your error-spotting abilities.
- Try proofing upside down - Read your work from the end to the beginning. This destroys the flow of argument and sequencing of ideas in the proof-reader’s mind, thus forcing his brain to mechanically look for errors.
- Read through slowly, as if you are giving a speech, pausing at appropriate moments to recheck the punctuation.
- Check out noun-pronoun usages. A singular pronoun cannot refer to a plural noun or a plural pronoun cannot refer to a singular noun. ('A student needs a library card before they can enter' should be corrected to read: 'A student needs a library card before he or she can enter' or 'Students need library cards before they can enter'.)
- Watch for repetitions. Use alternative words or synonyms to avoid this.
- Train yourself to observe every word in full. The human eye often skims words - that is, we see only parts of words, completing the rest through assumption or from memory. This is one reason we often fail to spot spelling mistakes.
- Collaborate with another Proof-reader, and check each other’s work. A second pair of eyes will pick up errors which the first one missed.
Requisites of a good Proof-reader:
- Right Attitude - Urge to achieve 100% accuracy
- Concentration - Look for the obvious and the not-so-obvious!
- Competence - Good knowledge of the language
- Tenacity - Eagerness to learn and perform better
'Remember, proofreading is not about being an expert writer. It is more about ensuring that spelling and grammar are correct, a sequence of numbers is in order, there is proper punctuation throughout the text, spacing and fonts are consistent, and that dates and times are accurate'.