Why Proofreading Matters
The most important thing about proofreading is to care enough to do it.
Proofreading matters – without it your writing could be plagued by the uninformed not uniformed police, marital not martial arts, infernal not internal disputes, and pubic not public affairs.
If you spend time fixing and clarifying your writing, it makes sense to invest a fraction more in a final check for errors before you send or publish. The most important thing about proofreading is to care enough to do it. Many documents, email and Web sites have errors in them, from misspellings to grammatical slips to factual blunders. Some readers won’t notice or think anything less of the author. But plenty will regard a rash of errors, or even one gross error, as proof that the author’s an idiot, therefore rejecting what’s being said.
So check and double check and put things right (or find someone to do that for you).
Other than the obvious (spelling and punctuation and grammatical errors), here are, according to the Oxford Guide to Plain English, fourteen things that need to be checked separately and carefully.
- Conformity with any house style an organisation adheres to.
- Alignment: check margins, bulleted lists, and all else that is to align vertically or horizontally.
- Captions: check captions on photos and illustrations. Often times they are added late or cut-and-pasted with errors.
- Contents list: check that the listed chapter or section headings are identical to the way they appear within the document and have the correct final page numbers.
- Dates: check that all days and dates provided match the calendar. The layout of dates must also be consistent.
- Phone numbers and Web addresses: check carefully as numbers and letters are often transposed.
- Headlines: check these separately as errors often lurk unsuspectingly.
- Numbers and prices: it’s easy to mistype numbers so check very carefully.
- Names: these are mainly the author’s responsibility, but be alert for oddities that may be mistakes. They are often easily checkable via the Web.
- Names of organisations: these change frequently. Keep abreast of the latest spellings via the Web.
- Footnotes, paragraph numbers, page numbers, running headers and running footers, and all cross-references to page or chapter numbers: all need a separate check.
- Homonyms: commonly confused words are principle/principal, compliment/complement, and its/it’s.
- Consistency of punctuation: tidy up inconsistencies of spacing, abbreviation, wording and punctuation.
- Alphabetical order: check that the items really are in order.