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Proofreading Strategies for (Almost) Absolutely Typo-free Writing

A writer friend of mine recently asked me what I do as a professional editor “to make sure copy is absolutely typo free” (her words).

If I’m being 100% honest, every editor recognizes that being 100% perfectly typo free is unrealistic because perfection is unattainable. But it’s still worthwhile to aim for as good as possible, and there are tools and tricks for helping catch those little things.

Boost Microsoft Word

MS Word is still what most people use for composition. Their built-in spellchecker isn’t the only thing you should use, but do use it. In fact, use it twice: once at the beginning of your editing process and once at the end to catch any errors that might have accidentally been introduced while making changes.

You can also personalize your spellchecker. Personalization can do two things:

  1. Go more in-depth.

  2. Help you find your personal trip-ups.

If you’re using Office 365, go to File —> Options, and then find “Proofing” on the left-hand column. There are already choices you can select or unselect, but you can go even deeper by clicking the AutoCorrect Options button and, under the “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” heading, choose the “Settings” button next to the “Writing Style” drop-down menu.

You can also ask your spellchecker to flag words that are often misspelled, especially if they’re misspelled as other words. For example, if a lot of your content is about law, have your spellchecker flag trail as a misspelled word so that you don’t accidentally use it instead of trial.

Consider a supplemental language checker

I’ve seen those commercials for Grammarly. I haven’t used it (and I haven’t heard of another professional editor who has, although there may be some out there). But depending on your situation, it might help.

I started using PerfectIt in addition to MS Word’s spellchecker. PerfectIt is not free, but it finds awkward inconsistencies throughout your writing. For example, before I published this post, PerfectIt helped me notice that I’d spelled spellchecker two different ways and prompted me to double check Merriam-Webster, which made me spell it yet a third way (spell checker vs. spell-checker vs. spellchecker). MS Word didn’t catch that, and while it’s a tiny detail, it makes my post more polished.

Mix it up

Help your eyes see the writing in a new way so that they can help your brain notice things that aren’t supposed to be there.

Try these strategies:

  • Set the document aside for a while. (How long depends on how much time you have.)

  • Read it aloud. (Or use a text-to-speech tool.)

  • Change the font and size.

These are good strategies if you’re in the middle of a longer edit or proofread or if you’re finding a lot of changes. If I’m working on a piece that’s heavily marked up using track changes, sometimes I will copy and paste it into a new document and change the formatting (for example, making it Times New Roman instead of Calibri). Making the document look different can help tease out anything odd that happened during proofreading or editing because it gives your eyes an opportunity to review it fresh.

I’m also a fan of proofreading on paper when possible and then putting changes into the electronic file.

Get someone else to look at it

It’s really hard to catch all the errors in your own writing. This is why editors and proofreaders have jobs.

Find someone else to read your writing. This could be:

  • an in-house editor (seriously, if you have a designated editor in your department or organization, use them!)

  • a coworker who’s good at language and has some extra time

  • a friend or colleague who’s willing to barter with you

  • someone you hire

Proofreading is detail-oriented work and it can be tough. But take the time to give that document a final review so it’s polished, professional, and as close to perfect as possible.

Megan Rogers