Image Description

The Top Five Proofreading Methods

Remember I said that proofreading is quite different from reading? What all of the proofreading methods I'm going to describe for you have in common is, they trick your brain NOT to read as normal. Each method includes a hack (or two or three) that bypasses your usual habit of filling in what your mind thinks should be there but isn't, your habits of assuming as you read.

Proofreading method #1: It involves proofreading on paper. I realize this is not always possible in practice, but if you can manage it, you'll get far better results than with proofreading on a screen. And here's the hack: Use a pen to point at the text, moving along one word at a time. This forces you to slow down. The physical point of the pen helps you look at what is actually there on the page instead of taking quick mental snapshots of what seems to be there, which is what you do when you skim.

An alternative hack: Instead of a penpoint, use a ruler – one that is not see-through – and move it line by line down the page. This also helps you see exactly what is on paper, though it's not quite as effective as the pen method.

Proofreading method #2: If you absolutely must proofread on screen, first change the font size of the text or the font itself or both. Make the words very large – at least 24 points. This size often messes up the original paragraphing, which is a good thing. At that size, you can also more easily spot where you had a comma that should be a period or vice versa, and other small but significant points.

And here, instead of the penpoint directing your attention as you move through the text on paper, use the computer cursor for that purpose. Move the cursor from word to word as you proofread. When I am proofreading something on my large desktop monitor at home, I sometimes hold the non-writing end of a pen up to the screen and move the penned word by word through the text, which accomplishes the same attention-focusing function.

Yet another hack, for either proofreading on paper or on screen, is to do it backwards. Go line by line from the end, bottom-up. This again stymies the brain's habit of scrambling mistakes into what was expected, helping you see the letters and marks that actually are there.

Proofreading method #3: Read the text out loud. Not out loud in your head or in a little whisper but truly out loud. This hack is especially effective for spotting things that should be there but aren't – missing words – or words that have a subtle glitch in them. I have recorded well over a dozen of my books and ebooks as audiobooks, and it always amazes me how one or two mistakes every ten pages get exposed with this method even though the text had already been professionally proofread.

Proofreading method #4: Use text-to-speech software to read the text to you. Of course, the software may very well mispronounce names and unusual words, as well as use an unnatural cadence or stilted intonation that mangles the intended meaning of what was written. This is good. Do not rely on this exclusively, because it will not catch certain kinds of punctuation errors or spelling mistakes, but it will definitely spotlight missing words or wrong words.

If you have a recent version of Microsoft Word, a text-to-speech function is built into it. You won't have to go hunting for any special software program, app, or online tool. Its voice is actually not that robotic and not that unpleasant to listen to. To find it, go to the Review menu and locate the Capital A, under which it says "Read Aloud Speech." The voice will start reading wherever your cursor is at that time. Here's how it sounds.

If you don't like listening to the Microsoft Word guy, or if you have an older version of Word that doesn't include that function, there are text-to-speech programs that you can download to your computer or cellphone that give you a choice of male or female voices in a variety of accents. There's also an extension for the Chrome browser called Natural Reader and one for the Firefox browser called Read Aloud that you can download (at no cost) and access right within the respective browser.

Another such free online text-to-speech tool is a website at, which enables you to copy and paste any text into its box, and it will read it to you at speed you can select (from very slow to three times normal speed) in a British or American accented male or female voice. It will also read aloud to you in other languages, including German, Spanish, French, Russian, or Chinese. How cool!

Proofreading method #5 requires two people, and it's something I saw in action when I worked in China for the government-owned publishing company that put out China-related books in English for foreign consumption. You could call it the buddy system, and it's also called comparison proofreading. It's labor-intensive and probably the slowest method of all the methods I'm describing in this course, but it's especially appropriate for highly technical, difficult-to-understand material, text that contains a lot of numbers or situations where you absolutely cannot afford to be making mistakes, such as legal contracts, diplomatic treaties, voting ballots, etc.

For comparison proofreading, you have an original text, either handwritten or in a computer printout, and the final text, as it is going to be printed or otherwise finalized. The original version is called a "dead" copy, and the final version is called a "live" copy. One person reads the live copy out loud while the other person carefully follows along on the dead copy to make sure it is the same.

However, there is a distinctive way to read out loud with this method. Instead of reading normally, you say all the punctuation marks and formatting features as well as the words. When there are numbers, you say each digit separately. And when there are any proper names, you spell them. So, for example, the person with the live copy would read the sentence "In 1978, Arcom had 1,569 employees at its Singapore West facility." as "Open quote In 1978 comma capital Arcom had 1 comma 5 6 9 employees at its capital Singapore capital West facility period close quote." Yes, this is tedious, but it is very, very exact.

In the next lesson, you'll hear about tools that you might be tempted to use for proofreading purposes. Some help, and some do not!

Image Description
Written by

Marcia Yudkin