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A Proofreader’s Top Tips to Become an Ace Speller

Here’s a fact: proofreaders are really good at spelling. But the interesting thing about spelling is that it’s not always a skill that comes naturally. In fact, few skills come entirely naturally, and that’s good news because it means that you can learn them. Famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci, or sportspeople like Serena Williams were undoubtedly born with an exceptional degree of skill. But what sets them apart is their will to learn, their determination, and hours of practice, and more practice. You might have heard of the 10 000-hour rule which says that it takes 10 000 hours of intensive practice to master complex skills. While proofreading is not as complex a skill as playing the violin or computer programming, for example, it still takes many hours of practice to perfect. So, how can you become the Leonardo da Vinci or Serena Williams of spelling? Here are our top tips.

Read Everything and Anything

Avid readers are usually very good spellers. While reading, you absorb all sorts of secondary things like grammar, punctuation, and of course spelling. Without realising it, you become aware of the correct usage of suffixes, prefixes, hyphenation, and many other spelling rules. It goes without saying that reading improves your vocabulary – the more you read, the more you are exposed to a very wide range of words and their meaning and spelling. Newspapers are an excellent learning platform since they cover an extensive range of topics and subjects, and their associated words. But so do articles, blogs, novels, biographies . . . you get the idea. The more widely you read, the more words you’ll learn – and how to spell them correctly.

Invest in a Good Dictionary

Print or online dictionaries are the proofreader’s bible – they are one of the most important proofreading tools. A good dictionary delves into the details of words – their pronunciation, acceptable hyphenation, etymology, functions, and of course spelling and spelling variations. For example, “encyclopedia” rather than “encyclopaedia” is an acceptable spelling both in American and British English, as are “chamaeleon” or “chameleon”, and “mediaeval” or “medieval”. If you’ve ever wondered if anyone has read a dictionary from cover to cover, and how long it would take, read this.
proofreading and spelling

Learn About the Differences Between British and American English

The rules and conventions are generally easy to pick up. For example, words that end in -our in British spelling, usually end in -or in American spelling, such as “colour” versus “color”, and verbs that end in -ise or -ize in British spelling, are usually spelt with only -ize in American spelling. We love this summary about British and American spelling from Oxford International English schools, which you can find here. The key is to familiarise yourself with the differences and always apply them consistently. Consistency is one of the most important proofreading skills. And don’t forget to ask your client or the writer which spelling conventions they prefer.

Become Familiar with Spelling Rules

There’s no such thing as a definitive spelling rule in the English language since it borrows from many languages, and there are also so many exceptions to the rules. Consider the “i before e except after c” rule. That’s all very well  . . . “except when eight of your feisty overweight neighbours who have had too much caffeine drive their sleigh into an ancient tree”.  But there are some rules that you can learn, absorb, and follow. YourDictionary explains fundamental spelling rules here.

Play Word Games

Daily online word games, such as Wordle, Quordle, and Blossom, have become increasingly popular. They’re a lot of fun and a great way to test and practise your spelling prowess (and keep your brain active). And of course, Scrabble, which was developed in 1931 and has stood the test of time as the ultimate spelling game. A dictionary is a good resource when playing word games – used primarily to settle disputes and, secondarily, another way to absorb the correct spelling of words.

Turn on Their Spell Checker 

While proofreaders shouldn’t (really shouldn’t) rely on spell checkers (think homophones and their associated pitfalls), it’s a good way to quickly identify common mistakes that you or a writer has made in a text. Think of your spell checker as a tutor, albeit one that is not infallible. The trick to improve your spelling by using a spell checker is to pay attention to it. Examine the correct spellings it offers to see where you went wrong.

Use the Chunking Method

The chunking method for learning includes breaking down information, finding patterns, and organising the information into groups. Break down words into chunks and memorise each bit separately. For example, en – tre – pren – eur = entrepreneur. This method is not based on dividing words into syllables (although it can be done that way) as the efficacy lies in creating chunks that make sense to the individual.

Create a Spelling Checklist

A proofreading checklist should always include a spelling checklist. Make a list of words that you have trouble spelling – and include words that you notice other writers struggle to spell correctly. It’s another mindful exercise since as you write or type the words in your checklist, you’re focused on the spelling and paying attention to the order of letters, the syllables, pronunciation, and even absorbing a mental image of how the word looks when correctly spelled.

Ready for a Quick Spelling Bee?

The words below made it into the top 50 most misspelt words in English. Rewrite them with the correct spelling and then scroll down for the answers. unecessary acknowlege brocoli innoculate guage millenium

How Did it Go?

Take a look at the correct spellings below. unnecessary acknowledge broccoli inoculate gauge millennium

The Skilled Proofreader – Online Proofreading Course

Being an ace speller is just one of the many skills of an excellent proofreader. The Skilled Proofreader online course covers every skill that you need to become a professional proofreader. Find out more about the course contents here.
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