OK, so you’re pretty pleased with yourself. You’ve been under pressure to publish that business report for ages and it’s finally finished. Now there’s just time for a quick proofread and you’re done, right? Think again. When it comes to business writing, cutting proofreading corners is a form of self-sabotage and, like wearing socks with sandals, it’s just plain wrong. But you can make it an easier exercise all round by using these simple strategies.
Leave it till last
Don’t do any proofing until you’ve finished all your writing. Wait until you’re happy with what you’ve written and then begin. Forget the topic and focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation. Remember, it’s not about being creative now; it’s about being vigilant so that no mistakes slip through.
Never proofread on screen
You’ll miss typos, extra spaces and design errors. Always print and proofread from paper. Then you’ll see the whole picture.
Silence is golden
Be alone. Go somewhere where there are no distractions. Don’t even think about checking your emails and leave your mobile in another room. Request there are no interruptions. Just taking this one step alone will really improve your ability to pick up those pesky errors.
One perfectly good reason why you should be in a room on your own, reading aloud can take a bit of getting used to, but it’s a huge help in picking up errors. Be extra thorough by also vocalising punctuation – ‘Profits improved by 40 per cent, full stop, space’. You’ll soon get used to it.
Decide on style
Do you prefer to see it written as ‘long-term’ or ‘long term’? Does it look better as ‘100%’ or ‘100 per cent’? Familiarise yourself with the find/replace function and do a global document sweep to ensure consistency. Take care with this though, as it may not be appropriate in every case.
Trying to find mistakes and inconsistencies in every aspect of your work all at once is difficult, so go easy on yourself by focusing on one thing at a time. Proofread the main body of text first. Next, check that page numbers in the table of contents are correct, footnotes are correctly notated and so on. If you do find you need to make a change to some wording, be sure to re-read the entire paragraph to ensure it still makes sense.
Don’t lose your focus by being distracted by a query that comes up as you do your read through or by realising there’s something you need to check. Jot down anything you need to go back to and tackle that list at the end, item by item.
Check formatting last
You may have found you needed to move text around during your read through, so leave the careful checking of spacing, bullet lists, indentations, font size and the hierarchy and style of headings till the end to save time and make it less stressful.
What you’ve written is really important, so always factor in enough time to give your message a good proofreading polish. It looks better, you’ll feel better and your audience will be impressed.