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6 Cruel Proofreading Traps to Avoid

Don't let poor proofreading cost you your job
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Office Management

6 cruel proofreading traps to avoid

By Robert Lentz

Proofreading is a little like building a 50-foot cement wall to keep out an invading army: Thousands of soldiers are repelled, and then a tiny ant crawls under the wall, bites you on the ankle and you're out of commission.

In every document are annoyingly small traps looking to take you down if you're not careful. Knowing grammar and punctuation inside and out, and putting a spell-checker through its paces, can only take you so far.

A misplaced decimal, a name spelled wrong, a word misused, a number transposed — brush it off and the consequences can be dire. Don't leave this important task to chance.

Remember these tips when reading something one last time before giving it the thumbs-up:

1. Look for the elephant in the room. The big bold text in headlines has a way of slipping right past our consciousness — after all, how could anyone make an error in such a prominent space? Ask the people who misspelled "college" on a huge banner spread across a baseball team's dugout during a nationally televised game in 2013.

2. Hyphens can be harsh. A word split in two by a hyphen and continued on the next line is a devious thing; when text breaks, your mind does an invisible double-take and is susceptible to a swindle. Make sure nothing was left behind or added accidentally when that dash jumped into the fray.

3. Stamp out identity theft. Does Bob stay Bob throughout your document, or did he suddenly become Pete? Sometimes a search-and-replace doesn't quite update everything, and name consistency is not typically something you focus on during the first or even second read.

4. Do the math. Simple addition and subtraction is almost never checked with a calculator when someone writes a piece. Come on, who would bother when seven times five is, and always has been, 42? Oops. Look at every number carefully — dates too. Are you just assuming the 14th of March is a Sunday because someone wrote it down that way? Inaccurate dates can be a stealthy assassin to a proofreader.

Learn to proofread with perfection, get a grasp on grammar rules and sharpen your editing skills. If you need your written communication letter-perfect, we can help. Polish your writing with Proofread with Perfection: Proofreading and Editing Techniques for Flawless Communication.

5. Count your bullets. This article is called "6 cruel proofreading traps to avoid." Now, count how many we actually describe. Yes, the numbers match up. (They do, don't they? Please say yes.) No one deleted or added one at the last minute — this time, but it could easily happen, making you look arithmetically challenged.

6. A picture is worth a thousand headaches. So, those photos that have been placed so artistically inside the document … they do actually match up with the text, right? You never know when someone's left an old picture where it shouldn't be, or they've simply grabbed the wrong one. And then there's the one-in-a-thousand chance that a picture's position on the page syncs up with text you don't want it to, creating unfortunate (and sometimes bizarre) connections in the reader's mind.

Now make a bold final charge against pesky typos

When you're 99.9% sure your document is gold, try the following to recalibrate your mind and detect what may still be cleverly hiding:

1. Run the pages through the copier to produce something twice their normal size and be amazed at what you spot when sentences get huge.

2. Read the document while standing up, or lying down, or in some other slightly unusual position. Just come at it from a slightly different physical angle.

3. Find everything totally fascinating. Pore over the material as if you're not looking for errors at all; you're just a fan of the subject matter and immersing yourself like a reader would. You'll make different connections and new logical inferences.

On Monday, June 13, Fred Kniggendorf, Ph.D., will discuss the most common types of errors, what you can do to catch — and fix — them, and the skills you need to produce effective, error-free communication.

Program highlights:
  • When to use a comma before the seven coordinating conjunctions
  • How to practice proofreading by watching the news on television
  • One very outdated proofing tip you'll hear about at practically every writing seminar
  • Why it's important that you have a style guide available when you write
  • Fred KniggendorfShould bulleted items have periods? We'll talk about it!
  • Why you need to know basic punctuation rules
  • How to recognize trite and overused business words and phrases ("Pursuant to," "We are in receipt of") and some suggestions of what to use instead
  • What to look for when proofing and editing displayed and paragraphed lists
  • Editing out wasted words (e.g., "that are," "which is," "who was")
  • Why you should read a document aloud. (You'll catch errors and determine how it will sound to the reader as they sub-vocalize.)
Most readers of reports and emails are skeptical of the information contained in documents that are riddled with easily corrected surface errors. Don't let yours be one of them. Register for Proofread with Perfection now!
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