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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

5 Proofreading Habits You Should Adopt Immediately

In a blog published on his website Career Talk Pro, writer and consultant Brian Hirth lists a collection of some of the worst résumé typos and faulty word choice examples he's seen. However hilarious they might be to read over in retrospect, the job seekers who submitted these words and phrases in their résumés and cover letters likely didn't find the lost opportunity funny.

Here are a few of the most egregious mistakes:

  • i am a prefectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.
  • Proven ability to track down and correct erors.
  • Lurnt Word Perfect computor and spreadsheet pogroms.
  • Develop an annual operating expense fudget.
  • In my 3rd year of BA houners English.
  • Received a plague for salesman of the year
  • My role included typing in details of accounts, customer liaison and money-laundering duties.
  • Extra Circular Activities
  • At secondary school I was a prefix
  • In my spare time I enjoy hiding my horse
  • Dear Madman (instead of Madam)
  • My hobbits include
  • Restaurant skills: Severing customers
  • I'm an accurate and rabid typist

Obviously, these mistakes would have never made it into the final draft if the writer had proofread correctly, or had someone else look over their résumé and cover letter before submitting it to a potential employer. In cases like these, I'm sure it was very clear to the employers that the applicants didn't want the jobs enough to ensure these mistakes were corrected. Such mistakes look unprofessional and careless—two qualities that employers avoid in employees.

Proofreading your work is not only smart—it can make or break your chances of getting a job, earning a promotion, or completing a degree. As with any skill, developing useful habits can help ensure that any content you submit, both professionally and personally, leaves the best impression.

Developing useful proofreading habits can help you achieve professional success
Developing useful proofreading habits can help you achieve professional success. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

Habit #1: Know your tendencies

Do you often confuse "your" and "you're"? Or maybe you have a habit of writing run-on sentences? Keep these tendencies on a list that is easily visible whenever you sit down to write something.

All writers have tendencies toward certain grammar mistakes and syntax errors. These are usually corrected the longer someone writes and works to perfect the craft of it. However, especially if you haven't had a lot of experience writing—or if you're learning English as a second language—knowing your tendencies is a good way to ensure adequate proofreading whenever you write.

As you develop this habit, include on your list all of the grammar, spelling, or syntax errors you tend to make. Over time, you'll begin to notice patterns you can identify as tendencies in your writing, and work to correct them each time you write. Being aware of the type of mistakes you often make is the first step to becoming a better writer (and proofreader).

Habit #2: Print it out

After you've written something, if you have access to a printer, go ahead and print it out. Proofreading your work after printing out a hard copy does several things:

  1. It allows you to make corrections directly on the paper for a visual understanding of your error tendencies (see habit #1).
  2. It gives your eyes a rest while proofreading, after staring at a screen. According to this article by the American Optometric Association, Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, is a vision-related problem that can happen after prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. According to the article, to help alleviate digital eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

Here's another great reason to print it out:

Viewing a computer or digital screen is different than reading a printed page. Often the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.

Viewing distances and angles used for this type of work are also often different from those commonly used for other reading or writing tasks. As a result, the eye focusing and eye movement requirements for digital screen viewing can place additional demands on the visual system.

American Optometric Association

Habit #3: Find a second pair of eyes

Speaking of eyes, even the most seasoned writers know to have someone else look over their work before it is published. Sometimes, you can write a phrase or word so often that it seems correct, even though it isn't. This is why it's always important to make the habit of finding a second pair of eyes to look over your writing.

Preferably, this other reader should be a professional editor, especially if your content is extremely important for professional or academic pursuits. As a writer and editor, I would never send in an article to a magazine or a query letter to a publication without first having a fellow editor look over it for me. There have often been small details I missed after writing a piece that another editor will catch upon first reading.

Another thing that happens is after you focus so intently on writing something, your brain will often fill in words that aren't on the printed page, causing you to miss the word entirely. This happens because you're overthinking the sentence or paragraph. Having another person read over your writing is the best way to catch this kind of mistake.

If you can't afford to hire a professional editor, at least consider having someone look over your writing for you. This could be a friend, relative, classmate, or professional acquaintance, and could help you catch a missed error you wouldn't have otherwise seen.

Find another person to be a second pair of eyes and catch mistakes you might have missed.
Find another person to be a second pair of eyes and catch mistakes you might have missed. Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash.

Habit #4: Read out loud

Reading your work aloud is a great proofreading habit to adopt, particularly because it helps you hear mistakes you might otherwise miss when only reading it in your head. If a sentence doesn't sound right when read aloud, you'll notice it immediately. It's one of the best habits you can adopt to ensure that everything you write is proofread correctly every single time.

According to The Write Practice, reading the words aloud is a proofreading technique that will change your life. Not only does this technique help with grammar, such as knowing where punctuation should go by hearing the pauses that happen, it also helps you catch run-on sentences that leave you out of breath after reading. Reading aloud also helps you find holes in your logic or missing information that needs to be included, along with awkward word placement or repetition. Sometimes, it's impossible for me to catch repetitive phrasing or words unless I read my writing aloud first. After doing so, the repetition becomes clear.

Habit #5: Give it time

Another important habit to develop for proofreading is to give it time. Preferably, after you've written something, you should "sleep on it," meaning put it aside to proofread the next day. Many writers have learned over the years that the best time to write or proofread your writing is first thing in the morning—after that first cup of coffee (if caffeine is your thing) and after you've had a restful night's sleep.

If you don't have this much time, at least give yourself a few hours between writing the content and proofreading it. Not only will you be able to proofread better—you'll give your brain the time to reset and prepare for the different processes copyediting requires.

Here's the science behind why this is a good idea. The way the brain functions while writing (creating) is different than how it works in the proofreading process. Martin Lotze researched what the brain looked like while writing. Using an fMRI while his subjects were writing, he first had 28 writers copy an excerpt. He then had the same subjects write a short story for three minutes.

During the actual writing activity, the occipital lobe (responsible for visualization) became more active, as the writers were "seeing" the scene take place in their minds as they wrote. During this creative process, the hippocampus and front of the brain became active, as factual information and plotline were processed. Expert writers used an additional part of their brain—the caudate nucleus, which is the region of the brain that handles automatic functions.

In another study, The Science Behind What Writing Does to Your Brain by Erika Rasso, the writer explored research related to how the writing process differs from the copyediting or proofreading process. She notes:

Copyediting is an action involving a complex network of different cognitive process to do. The basic building blocks of this complex network are attention and memory… Retrieval from both short-term and long-term memory are required to hold the information the copyeditor is reading in their head and to reference knowledge of grammar, style and other parts of the manuscript.

The Science Behind What Writing Does to Your Brain by Erika Rasso

As you can see, taking time between the two processes (writing and proofreading) gives your brain the opportunity to switch gears. This is an important step to ensuring you're able to proofread while your brain is at optimal performance.

Developing important habits for proofreading will help save you from embarrassing errors and any unprofessional faux pas. Learn them now and you'll find that you make fewer errors the more you practice.

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