Five Steps to effective proof-reading


Five Steps to effective proof-reading

Or…How do avoid “eyebrows” in your documents.

Have you ever written and proof-read a document only to have it returned at some point with a few glaring grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors?

My all-time best effort was in a Shakespeare essay. After weeks in the writing and hours in the final editing stage, I thought it was word-perfect and submitted it with the greatest confidence. It came back with a very large red circle around a word in a particular sentence:

“When deconstructing the role of the Fool in  eyebrows  King Lear, one must consider ….”


Then I remembered: while I was writing up the final copy a friend visited. She asked if she could borrow some tweezers to pluck her eyebrows. I said yes, and continued the final write -up of the essay. I have no memory of writing ‘eyebrows’ and no memory of noticing it during the final proof-read.


So what happened?


Anyone who has ever written a document for work, school, university or fun will know you are usually very familiar with the content you have written, edited and re-written over a period of time. The consequence is, when it comes to proof-reading, you often miss errors because you simply see what you expect to be there. The brain is very good at editing out simple errors, skipping over them in fact, because your subconscious knows you couldn’t possibly mean something like “eyebrows” in the middle of a Shakespearean sentence.


When it comes to business writing, getting it right is critical. Your organisation’s credibility depends on it, as does your own. A poorly written document reflects badly on you and your organisation.


So, what can you do to minimise errors? Apply the following five step checklist.


Five Steps to effective proof-reading

  1. Your best option is to put the document aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. You need to ‘trick’ your brain into being less familiar with it.
  2. Get a colleague to read it
  3. Try reading your document aloud, slowly, word for word
  4. Try reading it backwards, you’ll see any spelling errors immediately
  5. Change the font of your document and print it out. The ‘eye’ will see errors in the unfamiliar text and the unfamiliar off-screen format.


These are five simple, easy steps to improve your proof-reading skills. Good luck, and here’s to increased professional credibility and no more ‘eyebrows’.