The whys and hows of effective proofreading, plus a game of typo spotto. Happy National Proofreading Day!

The big day is almost upon us… National Proofreading Day! On the 8th of March, the entire nation (though not actually sure which one) stops and pays homage to the promotion of mistake-free writing. Or perhaps that’s just me.


Writing involves the communication of ideas. If errors obscure the message you want to convey, or at least make it harder to read, then it could essentially be considered a communication failure. To illustrate with an example, a text I once sent using an old-school numeric keyboard had auto-corrected “rejected” to “selected” without me realising, leading to awkward follow-up texts saying that did not in fact get that job.

Writing also communicates information about you, the writer. Whether it’s fair or not, a poorly-written piece riddled with careless mistakes can undermine your credibility, authority and perceived intelligence. It can also demonstrate a lack of pride in your work as well as a lack of respect for the recipient.

Proofreading - Myspace

Images via Buzzfeed

Good writing with strong attention to detail (as opposed to “storng attentt9n to deail”) can be the difference between an average grade and an excellent grade at school, or between not getting your dream job and getting it.

You don’t want to get complacent even once you’ve snared that dream job. A prominent error – and it only needs to be one – can land your head on the chopping block.

In the 1600s, about 1,000 copies of the King James Bible were produced with the wording “Thou shalt commit adultery.” It is estimated that only about 11 copies of this edition (nicknamed the “Wicked Bible”) survived the bonfire King Charles I ordered to burn them. The poor printer’s licence was revoked (representing a huge loss for them), though owners of these naughty copies can fetch up to $100,000 each.


Make time to proofread

Proofreading should not be treated as an afterthought. Rather, it should be regarded as an essential part of the writing process.

Assigning time specifically for the purpose of proofreading is well worth the investment.

Fresh eyes

Get someone else to read over your work. A fresh set of eyes is likely to spot errors that you have overlooked.

Refreshed eyes

In the absence of (or as well as) a fresh set of eyes, you should also make sure your own eyes are refreshed before launching into a proofread.

Saturation makes it harder for you to see mistakes in your work. Depending on how much time you have, some great ways to refresh your eyes include going for a walk, playing with the kids or a good night’s sleep.

Proofreading - exist

Via Reddit

Check your homophones

You can’t always rely on spelling and grammar check programs or auto-correct to fix your mistakes. This is particularly true for homophones – two or more words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, e.g. affect/effect, there/their/they’re.

Know your weaknesses

Do you habitually spell certain words wrong, or make certain grammatical errors? Pay particular attention to these.

Print out and read

This is a strategy I use regularly. I find it easier to spot mistakes when I’m reading off a piece of paper than a computer screen. Don’t forget to recycle the paper afterwards!

Read it out loud

When you review your work silently, your brain will cleverly insert missing words and punctuation for you, as well as auto-correct spelling mistakes, because you know what it is you’re trying to say. Reading out loud will greatly increase your chances of detecting errors. It also helps you work out whether your writing flows well and if you have commas and full stops in the appropriate places.

Read it backwards

This quirky strategy is very useful when you want to detect spelling errors. Reading backwards allows you to focus on the words themselves rather than their meanings.

Proofreading - Math lab

Via Reddit


Whew. All this proofreading talk has now made me extra-paranoid about my own writing. I’ve always considered myself decent at grammar and spelling. However, in the course of writing this blog, I’ve realised how many errors I commonly make. Thank you very much,

So now I’m turning things over to you, dear reader(s). I’m running a competition to see who can find the most errors in my previous blogs. If you’re lucky, there may even be some in this blog. That’s how nice I am.

Of course, this is purely in the interest of my continuing professional development and not just a cheap ploy to get more people reading my blogs.

What’s the prize, you ask? What’s in it for you (apart from hours of thought-provoking reading and entertainment)? Well, I’m supposed to keep it under wraps but I will tell you that it could be anything from a NEW CAR to something much better, like the glory of knowing you’ve one-upped a professional writer.

Again, because I’m nice, I’ll tell you what my known weaknesses are so you can look out for them:

  • Not knowing when to use single ‘ ‘ or double ” ” quotation marks.
  • Over-use (or under use) of hyphens.
  • Not always knowing which preposition (“of”, “on”, “with”, etc.) to use.

Here are some things that I’ve decided don’t count as wrong, not (just) for arbitrary reasons but also because some of the cleverer grammar websites have said so!

  • Ending sentences in a preposition.
  • British vs. American spelling (including when it is used inconsistently within the same blog. Because I said so).
  • Starting sentences with “And”, “Or”, and “So” (it’s called dramatic effect yo!)
  • The use and spelling of certain expressive interjections (yes, I had to look that term up). These include “yay”, “ack”, “hmmph” and so on. Although I may accept obvious typos such as “hpmph” or “yaya” as errors.

Happy reading and good luck!

Proofreading - math lab