Yeah, we all hate it. Nothing creative or even interesting about proofreading. Dull, mechanical, boring, but (sigh) a necessary evil.

If you approach the task with that attitude, I almost guarantee you will miss stuff. A true story: years ago I had a brilliant student who, on the brink of graduation, applied to about a dozen companies. She was well-qualified for every position, but got not one invitation for interview. She asked me to review her letter of application and resume. The letter was excellent. I asked her how she had proofed her resume. She looked puzzled, said she'd read it right through about 10 times, read it aloud. . .what more could she do? One of her headings was PUBLIC SERVICE. I asked her to skim the resume, reading headings only. She did, looked up, and shrugged. . .still not seeing anything wrong. Finally, on her third headings-only read. . .she saw it, and blushed as deep red as Burns's rose.

For PUBLIC SERVICE she had typed PUBIC SERVICE.

She missed it for two related reasons: she was bored and inattentive; she was in love with her own phrasing.

Here's the method I've developed. Works for me, and if all or part of it works for you . . . happier proofreading!

HOW TO PROOFREAD

Opening condition: you are satisfied that the text of the piece is as good as you can get it, at that moment. Print two hard copy.


  1. Get a friend to read it aloud to you. Ask them to read aloud only with NO editorial comment. They can 'tick' errors in the margin and review with you later. While they are reading, sit with your eyes closed and HEAR it. Your ears will pick up awkward phrasing, perhaps a word that doesn't sound quite right. Underline those issues as your friend reads. Don't stop the reading.
  2. Correct the text as you see fit. Read the edited text through with your friend. Send them away.
  3. Final proofing, assuming your text--poem, letter, story, doesn't matter--is NOW as good as it gets. So PROOFREAD IT BACKWARDS !!


Errors get by you in normal linear reading because, as author, you are intimately familiar with your own writing and whether consciously or not, you are 'thinking' what you know you wrote, as much as you are simply reading what is on the page. So familiarity is danger area #1.

Danger area #2 is love. This is on me. It may not apply to you at all. As I'm reading my own stuff in the normal, linear, silent way, part of me is going "what a turn of phrase!" OR "god! that word is perfect! Way to go Clark!" OR "Jas-suss clark! you are one fuckin' amazing writer!" I'm my own damned one-man cheerleader squad! In such a congratulatory mode, I literally might not even SEE errors. My eye/brain might sabotage my visual acuity into 'seeing' what I know is supposed to be there, rather than what is literally there.

I have been seduced by the magnificence of my own writing. To combat this, I destroy syntax and with it, I destray my magnificent style. So when I read "style"--"magnificent"--"my"--"destray", I instantly see the typo, and correct it.

That's it. As I said going in . . . it works for me. Maybe parts will be helpful for you.