In just the last ten days, the topic of proofreading (or lack thereof) has surfaced over and over in my work and personal life. It has caused creative friends to lose assignments, clients to lose confidence and readers to lose the meaning of the written word.
Proofreading is typically left until the last minute. It is hard work, and it is not really much fun to do. Worse, it is undervalued a lot of the time.
Proofreading is not just finding typos, misplaced commas and verb/subject agreement issues. It’s about refining content as well. It’s about making sure the reader can clearly understand the message being sent. Anyone who has attempted to proofread knows it’s tough to do.
Case in point: count the number of f’s in this sentence:
Finishing files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
There are six. If you didn’t find that many, it’s probably because your eye skipped over the word “of,” as it is a connecting word and often overlooked.
A piece that has been going around on the Internet for years illustrates just how easy it is to see a misspelled word, but recognize it, and understand it anyway. Can you read this?
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt
The reasons you can read this copy have to do with the fact that each word has a correct first and last letter, plus there is a context for you to follow that helps you get the drift of the message.
In last Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this ad, from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, used this technique to introduce new JELL-O Mix-ins. All but a handful of words in this ad are misspelled.
Proofreading other people’s work is difficult, but proofreading your own is next to impossible. That said, there are many times when we need to perform this task anyway. So for you, I offer the following:
Six Tips To Improve Your Proofreading Results
1. Give it a rest. Wait as long as time permits before you try to proofread something you’ve written or designed.
2. Don’t trust spell check! Use it as your first pass, but don’t trust it to know what you really mean.
3. Read it OUT LOUD. That will slow you down, which in itself will help a lot. This will also help you know if the copy “sounds” right.
4. Read paragraphs at random. You’re not just looking for typos; you’re reading to see if there’s a main idea in each paragraph.
5. Read the copy backwards. This isolates words and punctuation from the context.
6. Always work from a printed copy. It’s too easy to drift focus in front of your computer screen.
A friend of mine pointed out that proofreading isn’t just for the professionals who create materials for the public to read and understand. It’s for all of us. He admits, “I do my best proofreading right after I hit send.”
This blog entry brought to you by this week’s installment of the G/L Monday Minute.