50 Top proofreading tips

Our list of quick tips for proofreaders

  1. If you wrote the copy, get someone else to proofread it — they can approach the text as a stranger without your preconceptions.
  2. Have a tidy desk — you are your own worst interrupter if things catch your eye.
  3. It takes a lot of concentration — proofread when you are fresh.
  4. If you have to proofread your own copy, leave it and do something else first — give yourself time to forget what you wrote.
  5. Have the proofreader's tools of the trade handy — dictionary, thesaurus etc.
  6. Schedule — allocate time — proofreading is a specific task, not something just fitted in.
  7. Avoid interruptions — go somewhere, use a red flag system, hold phone calls.
  8. Take breaks — relax and then you can concentrate afresh.
  9. Divide into sections — set yourself a limit, "I'll do this and then stop for a moment."
  10. Do it at least twice — once for technical accuracy, once for sense.
  11. To spot the typos, read it backwards so you're not distracted by the meaning of the text.
  12. Use a bright colour so your corrections stand out.
  13. Different colours for different people so that queries can be picked up with individuals.
  14. Mark in the margin — put a mark for each error explaining what it is.
  15. Put the marks in the text where the error has occurred.
  16. Enlarge small text — easier to proofread, easier to mark.
  17. Photocopy — mark the photocopy and transfer when you are sure it’s right.
  18. Use understandable marks — standard proofreading marks are defined in BS 5261 C: 1976
  19. Mark every page that has an error so they don't get missed on a skim through.
  20. Identify versions — use date/time so you don't proof a version that's already been superseded.
  21. Proofread in pairs — one calls out the text and punctuation from the original and the other checks that the proof matches what's being called.
  22. Do the maths — and if you can't, get someone who can.
  23. Check the scientific symbols — or have them checked by someone who knows about them but try avoid using the original author.
  24. Watch the ends of lines — hyphenation, repeat of double words split over line endings.
  25. Look out for clusters of mistakes — they are like buses: you don't see one for ages and then half a dozen come along at once.
  26. Word processing errors — 3 instead of £ sign, Caps Lock typing instead of shift.
  27. Widows and orphans — paragraphs running over page breaks and leaving one or two lines stranded.
  28. Names and addresses.
  29. Phone numbers — the easiest way to proofread a phone number is to call it, a couple of pence can save a fortune.
  30. Little words — the big words draw the eye and that's where we expect spelling errors but typos can slip in anywhere.
  31. Headings — sometimes body text and headings are separated in the print process, make sure you check both.
  32. Captions — are they on the right items?
  33. Illustrations — proof these separately if you have a lot. Check that it's the right one, in the right place and it's the right way round.
  34. Contents page — do the page numbers and headings match with the actual copy in the document?
  35. Index — check that the page references are correct.
  36. Cross references — follow them through to the referenced material.
  37. Skim numbering systems — do this first and just check that any numbers used are sequential.
  38. Alignment: overlay old over new, for columns — look down the page at a tilt.
  39. Check the covers and spine — often these layouts are done separately from the main copy.
  40. Binding margins — make sure that bound pages have mirror image layouts so that the binding margin is on the right of the left-hand page and the left of the right-hand page.
  41. Check the familiar — treat everything as strange.
  42. Paired items such as brackets and speech marks — make sure that the second element is in the right place.
  43. Deviation from standard type — has it returned from bold to normal at the right point?
  44. Make sure that the type style matches document style sheet.
  45. Quote-mark handedness — they're not upright '' characters, they have left and right handedness — 66s and 99s.
  46. Make sure that you're not using anyone's trade marks — and, if you are, make sure they are acknowledged.
  47. Check copyright and copyright acknowledgements.
  48. Watch the footers — not always noticed when concentrating on the body copy and can be a giveaway if you're "boiler-plating" a new document from an old one.
  49. Check for footnote agreement.
  50. Abbreviations — has the abbreviation been defined at its first use?

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