Editing, Proofreading

How to Prevent That Mistake: My Favourite Trick

Proofreading your own work is one of the hardest things to do. We’re so close to the subject that we know exactly what we mean, so errors are easy to miss. But even the shortest pieces we publish, including tweets and graphics, need to be proofread.

Spelling Concept

Proofreading is different than other other types of editing. It demands the most focus and concentration, because it’s about looking for the little things. Proofreading is the final step in the publication process—the last chance to catch mistakes before your piece has been posted on Twitter and gone viral.

So how do you prevent that from happening?
Of all the tricks in the proofreader’s toolbox, I have one old-school favourite: a blank sheet of paper.

This trick work can work on a computer screen, but it’s most effective if you can print a hard copy of the text you’re proofreading. The trick is easy: use the blank sheet of paper to cover everything below the line you’re reading, so that it’s easier to focus on each word without skipping ahead. Examine each word, letter by letter, to make sure it says exactly what you mean. (If you can’t bring yourself to print out the text, then change the font and size on the screen so that it looks different than what you normally use, but still use a piece of paper to cover up everything below the line you’re reading.)

You might feel silly. You might even look silly. But you’ll also be surprised at the hidden mistakes you find when you take the time to really examine each word, using a technique that you don’t normally use as a reader. And most would argue that a quick moment of feeling silly before something goes to print is much better than the embarrassment that follows when the mistake goes viral on Twitter.