Whilst your loved ones will probably chuckle if you and your partner sign off a friendly text ‘with out love’ rather than ‘with our love’, making typos in business documents is a different game.
No one is immune to making such mistakes. Everyone’s sent a text message or email with a typo, sometimes an embarrassing one. You’ve probably broken into a cold sweat or experienced that sinking feeling when someone points out that the important report, paper or article you’ve just released has a glaring typo.
That’s despite the fact that you probably read through the content numerous times.
Imagine how you’d feel making these mistakes
It’s possibly cold comfort to know that it can happen to anyone – and that it does.
Consider the Reserve Bank’s embarrassment in 2019 when it was revealed that there was a typo in Australia’s new $50 note launched in 2018. It was only after 46 million notes had been printed that anyone noticed that in an extract from a book printed on the note, the word ‘responsibility’ was misspelled.
As proof readers for listed companies and government we’ve seen countless typos, often amusing, in the final drafts of important public-facing documents. And these are documents that have been proofread in-house numerous times before reaching our hands for the final proofread.
We’ve had one of Australia’s best known banks issuing divideds to its shareholders. And let’s not forget the company that was singing a major agreement.
How to avoid red faces
Clearly, to avoid red faces even the shortest of business messages need a proofread. Mostly, a quick cast of your eye over the content is enough for texts and emails.
But for important business communications it’s vital to make sure the content is spot-on. This is especially so for communications where your organisation’s reputation could be open to ridicule if it makes a mistake that’s in the public domain.
The problem is that we often can’t see our own typos. We know what we wrote, and so our brains read ahead, overlooking typos, inconsistencies, extra spaces, missing words and doubled words.
Fortunately, we have some tricks to help you to minimise the risk of typos slipping through your written words. It’s not easy to proofread your own work and it’s always valuable to have someone else who’s not been involved in writing the content to proofread it for you. But if that’s not possible, here’s our advice on how to proofread your own work.
How to proofread your own work
1. Print the document
Proofreading on screen is fine for very short content, like an email or text. But anything longer must be printed. Yes, printed. It’s just not possible to proofread on screen properly.
Over 20 years of experience has shown us again and again that when people proofread on screen, countless inconsistencies and errors slip through.
Reading on paper is easier on the eye; we see the content differently and mistakes are more apparent.
Keep the soft copy open while you’re proofreading, though. You can flip back and forth to check if terms, names, programs and job titles are presented in the same way throughout the document; and if bullet points and headings have the same style.
You’ll also need the soft copy to mark-up your corrections, comments and queries as you proofread your own work.
2. Leave it for a day or two
A fresh pair of eyes is usually the answer to avoiding mistakes sneaking into your published content. But if you don’t have anybody to help you, then rest between the time you write and the time you proofread your own work. Print the document and walk away. Leave it for a day or two.
By doing this, you’ll have your own fresh pair of eyes with which to view your content.
A new day gives a fresh perspective and distance between your writing and the final draft for proofreading. You’ll see the content differently and it will be easier to find those typos and grammatical errors that you didn’t pick up the day before.
3. Create a list of common mistakes
Once you know the types of errors that you or your colleagues typically make, keep a list of them. You can then use your own ‘checklist’ every time you start proofreading.
Check for all the common mistakes first. Use the search and find tool to identify them before you start proof reading. You’ll catch your most common errors before you have to go searching for others.
For example, before we start proofreading we use our own checklist to look for mistakes that crop up again and again. These include:
- Mange / mangement (a common typo in lengthy documents such as annual reports)
- Abilites / abilty
Inconsistencies are in fact more common than typos. Typical inconsistencies to watch out for include:
- Bullet lists being presented differently, for example some lists ending with semi colons, others without
- Hierarchy of headings not following the same format
- People’s names being spelled differently, such as using a middle initial or Dr, Mr, Ms or Mrs in some instances but not in others
- Job titles and the name of programs or initiatives varying across the document. For instance, mentions of the ‘Change Program’ and the ‘Change Management Program’. Readers won’t know if these are the same program.
4. Use the spellcheck and grammar tools
It’s true that technology does some of the proofreading for us nowadays. The spell checker is a great help and part of every great proofreader’s repertoire.
However, be aware that they’re not foolproof. They won’t pick up on words that are spelled correctly but are not the word you meant to use, for instance.
Unclear and nuclear is a simple example of where a slip on the keyboard completely changes the meaning of what you are writing.
Affect or effect? There or their? Knot or not? Your spell checker probably won’t notice if you get these mixed up.
5. Read it out loud
This is one of our favourite rules for perfect proofreading. Reading aloud is really useful because it’s always easier to ‘hear’ mistakes.
You’ll find that you stumble over incorrectly spelled words or bad punctuation.
Plus, you’ll hear where the content is clunky, repetitive or where it needs restructuring. In these cases, what’s called for is good editing to improve the flow.
6. Start with the last word in the document and read through to the first
Reading from the last word to the first might sound very odd but it works for shorter documents.
Reading ‘backwards’ is great for seeing each word in isolation. You’ll easily see where a word has been spelled incorrectly.
Of course, reading backwards isn’t feasible if the document is more than a couple of pages as it would just take too long. Plus, you’ll miss words that have been omitted and inconsistencies in how terms, headings and bullets are presented. You also won’t get a feel for flow of the content.
That’s why it’s best to do this once you’ve been through the document from start to finish first and identified issues with tone, flow, inconsistencies and grammatical errors.
7. Ask somebody else to proofread your work
Nobody is perfect. Many of us were absent from school when grammar was being taught. Others have forgotten the rules or not kept up with changes to them.
Asking someone you trust who hasn’t been involved in writing the document to proofread is helpful. They’ll won’t have any knowledge about the content and so they won’t know what’s coming next. They’ll more easily identify errors that everyone who’s reviewed the document before them has overlooked.
Bear in mind, however, that your colleagues will almost certainly only be looking for typos. They won’t be doing a thorough check for inconsistencies in how names, terms, bullets, titles and headings are presented.
8. Seek professional help
No, not because proofreading has given you a blinding headache, but to avoid you having to do it yourself.
You might find it hard to believe, but there are people out there who love nothing more than to pore over a document for the sole purpose of finding mistakes. Well, perhaps you don’t find that surprising. But it’s good to know that there’s someone who can take the load for you.
What you definitely will find surprising is the value that a professional proofreader brings to your document. They’re worth their weight in gold. They’ll uncover inconsistencies and errors that you and your colleagues didn’t notice.
They’ll help you to look great in front of your peers, management team or board by picking up those important typos that have the potential to be very embarrassing.
Contact us today for professional proofreading
At Proof Communications, we understand that it’s critical that your organisation’s professionalism shines through in all of your corporate communications. Our proofreading brings peace of mind that all the components of your important stakeholder documents are the best they can be.
We’ve been proofreading for listed companies and government for more than 20 years.