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How to be a Proofreader – Training for a Brain Marathon

If you are wondering how to be a proofreader, you should also be asking yourself: How “brain fit” are you? Can you find a different number besides the number 9 in the box below?

Did you manage to find the number 8? And, how did you find it? Did you comb through each line until you found it? Did you look at the whole image until your brain noticed an inconsistency? Did you do both?

This exercise is just a small taste of how to think like a proofreader, and how to train your brain to identify errors and inconsistencies in a text.

How to be a Proofreader – The Devil is in the Detail

Think about doing this exercise on a longer text, perhaps one that continues over pages and pages. You would follow a very similar process to find the errors and inconsistencies in words and sentences, punctuation and grammar, numbers and numbering, images, formatting, layout, and so on. The proofreading process requires you to read each line slowly and carefully, with awareness of pattern, focusing on what is in front of you, but holding the whole in mind. In fact, some people say that proofreading is just like doing a massive brain puzzle which takes some time to solve. It’s a brain marathon, not a sprint!

So, here are 10 tips to help you get “brain fit”.

Stay Focused

Avoid distractions and concentrate on the task at hand. If your mind starts to wander or you’re reading the same sentence or paragraph without taking in anything, it’s best to take a break. Go for a short walk, get some fresh air, make a cup of tea. Do whatever it takes for you to reset, so that you can come back and focus on the manuscript.

Read Slowly

When proofreading, take your time and read slowly, carefully, and mindfully. Proofreading is a totally different process to reading a book for information, pleasure, or entertainment. You need to pay closer attention to the words on the page to increase your chances of catching all the errors and inconsistencies. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t rush!

Pay Attention to Detail . . .

Review every line and word. Pay close attention to small details, like the correct use of apostrophes, or the use of homophones like “stationery” and “stationary”.  Every time you see “its” or “it’s” you should be on high alert. A well-trained brain will automatically be triggered into action at all points of potential error.

. . . but, Don’t Lose Sight of the Whole

At the same time as checking every word and sentence, you also need to hold the “whole” text in your head. For example, you need to remember that on page 2 the word, “decision-makers” was hyphenated so that when you get to page 20, you use the same hyphenation; or you need to remember how a main heading on page 8 was formatted and carry this formatting “memory” across to other pages.  In other words, you need to hold different layers and components of the text in your head at the same time, without losing sight of any one layer.

Look for Patterns

Many mistakes, such as consistent spelling errors, language-related problems, and repetitive phrasing, can be identified by looking for patterns in the text. Does the author always write “seperate” instead of “separate”, or overuse a particular word? Train your brain to recognise these patterns by practising regularly and keeping a checklist of common errors.

Recognise Shape and Space

Train your eye to recognise inconsistencies in shape, space, layout, and formatting or design elements. Look at the page as a whole. Does it look correct? Does it match other pages? Does anything stand out as wrong? Identifying and resolving all inconsistencies – in text and in formatting – is an essential part of proofreading.

Draw on Your Memory and Recall

Move backwards and forwards within the text to constantly check and correct consistency in all aspects. If you’ve noticed a mistake in the middle of a manuscript, go back and check if it’s been made previously. This is why proofreading is a puzzle; it’s about going back and forth until everything fits.

Use Reference Materials

Keep trustworthy reference materials, such as a dictionary and style guide, close at hand so that you can quickly check spellings and styles. Do research if you need to and don’t be scared to collaborate with others. Phone a proofreading guru/friend to discuss options and decisions you are unsure of. Two pairs of eyes are often better than one.

Be Willing to Learn

Keep yourself humble and know that we all make mistakes. Whether you’ve been proofreading for 20 days or 20 years, we all have more and much to learn. Also, be willing to share your knowledge; be that proofreading guru that others call on!

Practise Regularly

Like any skill, proofreading takes practice. Regularly using your proofreading skills will help train your brain to recognise mistakes. You wouldn’t show up to a marathon without doing a few training runs; it’s the same for proofreading!

If you want to boost your brain power, and improve your short-term memory and problem-solving ability, there are a number of fun and brain-stimulating activities and online word games that can help. These include:

You can also try traditional brain games like crossword puzzles and word searches which are found in most household magazines.

Online Proofreading Course – The Skilled Proofreader

By following and applying the above 10 tips, and by keeping your brain fit and active, you will become a more effective and efficient proofreader. You and your brain are the piece of the publishing puzzle that cannot go missing in action, as it is the proofreader’s job to deliver a clear, cohesive, and credible text or manuscript.

If becoming a freelance or full-time proofreader sounds like something you want to do, our online proofreading course can help you get there. It is self-paced and accredited, making it more accessible to those who have full-time jobs or other daily commitments.

Contact us if you have any questions about how to be a proofreader.

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