How To Proofread

Document created by Yvonne Kucher Employee on Apr 25, 2016
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By Yvonne Kucher, Senior Technical Editor

Proofreading what you write is not easy.  Proofreading is not editing.  Proofreading is not reading for meaning. Proofreading is focusing on the mechanics, not the content. The goal of proofreading is to find and correct blatant errors (see Exhibit 1).

The correct way to proofread is to look at every character, every letter, number, and punctuation mark, one line at a time.

You should estimate proofreading 4 to 8 pages an hour maximum, depending on the complexity of the content. Keep track of estimated and actual time so you can better estimate proofreading time in the future. 

Exhibit 2 contains tips to help you improve your proofreading skills.

Exhibit 3 contains a list of proofreading, writing, and editing resources,

Before you read and do the process you must have these prerequisites nearby:

  • Your list of problems
  • Relevant content from the resources list (see Exhibit 3) and other resources used by your company

  Now, in a nutshell, do this:  

  • Read this process and the exhibits.
  • Decide what to change.
  • Make the changes.
  • Begin proofing.
  • As you proof, if you think what you changed to proofreading is not helping you, stop. Try different techniques in this process.

      Do this: 

  1. Do not review/proof your work immediately after you finish writing and using your spelling checker and grammar checker software. Take a break from looking at words, and return when you are ready to focus on proofreading, begin.
  2. Change the color of the background if you proof online or color of paper if you print the content to proof it.
  3. Change the lighting, distance from which you proofread, or page orientation. Do not use fluorescent lighting when proofreading. Your eyes cannot see inconsistencies as easily under fluorescent light.
  4. Add some background music, chew some gum, sip your favorite nonalcoholic beverage, give yourself a reward for completing the proofreading (for example, a slice of pie) or anything else you think of that will help you better focus on proofreading. 
  5. Change one or more of these typeface characteristics:Type color, Type font,Type size,Type style
  6. Proof it slowly, out of order, out loud, and proof for a short time (15 to 30 minutes), then take a break to rest your eyes before you continue. 
  7. Do more than 1 proofreading pass.  You might want to do 1 pass for common proofreading errors and another pass looking for legal and technical issues, for example.
  8. Scan every page for blatant errors.  See the Scan techniques in Exhibit 2.
  9. Incorporate and verify all your proofreading changes.
  10. Now use your electronic tools and again, verify every suggested change.

  If you make a last minute change to a few words while proofreading, be sure to check the entire sentence and related content. Never change just one word without verifying it fits with the accompanying text.  Never accept the results from the spell checker, grammar checker, and so on, always verify. Spell checkers and grammar checkers are of limited value. Is the spell checker dictionary the same dictionary used by your company? There is a good chance that not all technical terms are in the spell checker and how current is that dictionary?  Your style guide might deviate from standard spelling and grammar in the Chicago Manual of Style.   


Exhibit 1: What To Check For When You Proofread

Check for legal issues first:

  • Any pre-announcements or promises?
  • Safety warnings and cautions are incomplete. Missing consequences is the most common error.
  • Incorrect use of trademarks Common errors include: trademarks used as nouns, instead of adjectives. Trademarks not spelled correctly. Trademark symbol is incorrect.
  • Incomplete or missing legal notices and disclaimers.

     Check these items for technical accuracy:

  • Do cross-references/links go to the expected content, or is the content not found?
  • are there enough cross-references?
  • New abbreviations and terms are not explained or defined.
  • Are steps missing or incomplete?

     Now check for these errors:

  • Double words, missing words, or wrong words
  • Typos
  • Missing or incorrect punctuation
  • Grammar and use of language issues
  • Inconsistent capitalization
  • Missing words, double words, and wrong words
  • Incorrect, incomplete, and contradictory text and supporting figures and tables.
  • Problems in figures and tables (terminology different from text, missing cross-reference)
  • Formatting problems, incorrect typeface, incorrect alignment
  • Is any content too general instead of specific? Common errors include uses of words like: currently, large, small, should, recommend, soon.

      Exhibit 2: How To Improve Your Proofreading Skills

  • Learn to scan better.

Scan a page down the middle of the text using peripheral vision to capture a sufficient amount of text to grasp the meaning.    Let your eyes follow a pattern of the letter x, s, or the number 8, whichever works best   for you. The idea is to see all the letters on the page in a glance. Weird letter combinations stand out. If your eyes stop at something, check it.

  • Spend time every month reviewing the resources that will help (see Exhibit 3).



Exhibit 3: Proofreading, Editing, and Writing Resources

  • Your company style guide, brand standards, templates, trademark list your checklist of your common errors and misspelled words, and so on.
  • AMA Style Guide
  • AP Style Guide
  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • DITA !01 by Ann Rockley
  • DITA Style Guide
  • Government Printing Office Style Manual
  • IBM Developing Quality Technical Information
  • IBM Style Guide
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary free online
  • Microsoft Manual of Style
  • Microsoft User Interface Standards (free online)
  • The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein
  • The Global English Style Guide by John Kohl
  • Minimalism Resources: The Nurnberg Funnel & Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel by John Carroll
  • Usability Resources: and lots more on this well-known usability 


Call to Action: Please send feedback to I will modify as necessary.