The Write Stuff
October 2015 Volume 11 Issue 10
Proofreading Like a Professional
Proofreading is something many people are able to do. Rather than making wholesale copy changes, which would be editing, proofreading is focused on ensuring copy is “clean” — free of typos, misused words, grammar errors, odd spaces, and misplaced or missing punctuation.
It’s hard to proofread your own copy, but you shouldn’t entrust just anyone with this important task. The person you choose should be detail-oriented, have good writing skills and be enthusiastic about helping you (not dragged into doing it, kicking and screaming).
Here are a few proofreading tips:
- Double-space your documents for easier readability. I highly suggest this for online proofing and it’s mandatory if proofing a hard copy, since you need space to make notations.
- Don’t rely entirely on spell check or software-assisted grammar checkers to proof your documents. A human being will catch things like homophone errors (here instead of hear) and transposed letters (form instead of from).
- Take breaks if proofing a long document. Your eyes and brain need regular rest if you’re not used to this type of detailed task.
- If you run across unfamiliar words or phrases, do a Google search to check for correctness and/or capitalization.
- When in doubt about something, highlight it and pose your concern as a comment.
- It may be helpful to read copy aloud, as even the best proofreaders can be tricked by their brains into seeing words that aren’t there.
Finally, I find it best not to trust loved ones like your spouse, best friend or parent to proof your copy unless they have the skill set to do so. They may want to spare your feelings rather than point out where you have erred.
Shall or Will?
The use of the word “shall” is disappearing from American English, and probably with good reason, as the explanation of when to use it over “will” is hard to comprehend. R.L. Trask, in Say What You Mean! A Troubleshooter’s Guide to English Style and Usage, said, “Do not try to use shall if the word does not feel entirely natural, and especially don’t try to use it merely in the hope of sounding more elegant. Doing so will probably produce something that is acceptable to no one.” Here’s a case where it makes sense to use shall: Shall we dance? In most other uses, will is preferred, e.g., Will the Chicago Cubs break professional sports’ longest drought and win the World Series this year?
There are many different ways to denote time within copy. I typically use AP Style, so I would do it this way: 9 a.m. You may prefer another style, perhaps: 9:00 AM, 9 AM or 9:00 a.m. It’s not really a matter of right or wrong, but consistency. While I find including :00 unnecessary in most uses, you may feel otherwise. That’s OK. Just use the same style throughout a document.
FYI: Did you know that the win-or-go-home game between the Cubs and Pirates started at 7:08 p.m., 19:08 in military time? 1908 is the last time the Cubs won the World Series. Also, the game was played on Oct. 7 (10/7), and it’s been 107 years since 1908. Of course the Cubs won!
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