Avoid Embarrassing Mistakes With These Proofreading Tips

Spelling, grammar, and other writing mistakes tell your audience you either don’t know or don’t care whether you’ve gotten things right. These are not good messages.

In today’s busy world, many of us feel like we need to proofread our work right after we write it (if we proofread at all). This is a tall order for our brains, because our brains remember what we meant to write and will often breeze over mistakes, filling them in with the intended word or punctuation mark.

Whether you’re writing a quick email or a major proposal, mistakes can be costly. Here are some tips to help your brain see what you actually wrote.

  1. Read each word out loud slowly. If you have colleagues within earshot and your information isn’t for public consumption, this approach is problematic. However, if you have enough privacy (or don’t need it), this is a great way to proofread. Carefully look at each word before saying it — each word should take about a half-second to look at and then pronounce. The first few times you do this, you’ll notice your eyes darting ahead. Force them back to the word you’re reviewing.
  2. Take a small break and do something else before proofreading. The more time you can put between the time you write and the time you proofread the better. While your subject matter may remain familiar, the precise way you intended to tell your story will begin to fade. This makes proofreading easier because you actually have to READ the material to know what it says.
  3. Read your work backwards. I know it sounds weird, but reading backwards works really well to spot misspelled words, repeated words, and formatting mistakes. Because the narrative doesn’t flow, your brain doesn’t get swept up in the story, and instead stays focused on each individual word.
  4. Find a proofing buddy. While this may not be practical for every email you write, it’s great to find a colleague who’s willing to review your work before you send it to key audiences, like your boss or prospective clients. You can do them the same favor.
  5. Never send anything without reading it through at least once, twice is better. If you are in a hurry, at least read over your work once before sending it. Look for common mistakes you know you make (for example, I often write “your” instead of “you”).

If you’d like to improve your writing, let me know. It’s amazing how much progress people make when they dedicate a little time to it.