1. Try to proofread when you are fresh (it takes an awful lot of concentration to do it properly) and take breaks to improve your concentration. Aim to stop and relax for at least five minutes every hour.
2. Look out for typing errors; writing form instead of from, for example, is a common mistake when typing and will probably not be picked up by a spell checker.
3. Keep an eye on short words like a, the, of and to; the eye tends to skip over these words and focus on longer ones. Remember that these words are sometimes left out by writers.
4. Check abbreviations: if the abbreviation is not widely known then make sure that it is defined the first time it is used.
5. Check items that come in pairs, for example parentheses and speech marks. Make sure that the second item hasn’t been missed out and that it is in the right place.
6. Check text that deviates from standard type: has it returned from italics or bold to normal at the right point?
7. Skim through numbered items; do this before reading the text in detail to check that the numbers used are in the right sequence.
8. Watch out for homophones: words that sound the same but have different meanings are commonly confused and may be used incorrectly. Examples of these are discreet/discrete and affect/effect.
9. Check apostrophes: do they appear where they should? Always check its/it’s to ensure that the correct form has been used (its is the possessive form; it’s is a contraction of it is).
10. Familiarise yourself with commonly misspelled words and make sure you know their correct spellings. Whenever you come across one of these words it should act as a red flag, prompting you to check that it is spelled correctly. Examples of commonly misspelled words are necessary, separate and skilful.
The Proofreading Agency’s Links page for proofreaders is a great starting point for finding further resources to help you improve your proofreading.
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