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What to check when proofreading your text.

Updated: Jun 24

When I am proofreading a text, there are several things I keep an eye out for. The basics are spelling, grammar, and punctuation. That's not everything, though. You also have to consider the consistency of how things are written; for example, do you use organisation and organization interchangeably? And remember to look for possible formatting issues.


The key elements to check when proofreading are:

(This list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a good idea of what to concentrate on.)

Spelling

  1. This seems obvious, but spelling errors cannot only be a nuisance to find as a reader; they can also influence the meaning of a text. For example, these two sentences sound the same when you speak them out loud but say different things: 'She led the team to victory': an event in the past where a woman guided her team to victory. 'She lead the team to victory': in this case, "lead" is misspelt, and a reader may think the author meant to write something else. The reader may understand the intended meaning, or they may think the author meant to write "leads" instead (She leads the team to victory). This implies that the woman is currently guiding the team to victory.

  2. Check the spelling conventions of your intended audience. Some languages have one way of writing things, and others have many. I work with English texts, and my clients are from all over the world. I am always making sure that the spelling matches the type of English my client uses. If I proofread a text written in American English, I have to ensure that the words are written according to US dictionaries. It is easy to miss 'centre' or 'judgement' (UK spelling) because they are very similar to 'center' and 'judgment' (US spelling).

  3. Other often misspelt words that can change the meaning of a text are those that are both verbs and nouns, e.g., Advice vs Advise. Take extra care when you come across these.


Grammar

Please note: the type of text you are working with may prefer certain grammar conventions.

  1. Active vs passive tone of voice: A fiction piece, for example, prefers active over passive sentences. That is, subject-verb-object where the subject does the action (I sat on the chair), and not subject-version of to be-verb-object where the subject is receiving the action (the chair was sat on by me). This is not to say that using the passive voice is wrong; it just may be more difficult for the reader to understand. So, always check the grammar conventions for your text before you start editing/proofreading.

  2. Verb tenses: Keep tenses in a sentence consistent. For example, don't change from the present to the past or the future tense in the same sentence. For example: 'In the morning, she wakes up early, ate breakfast, and then will go for a run.' This sentence should be: 'In the morning, she wakes up early, eats breakfast, and goes for a run.'

  3. Do your subject and verb agree? Often, when you see or hear 'I are' or 'we am', you realise that something needs to change so the grammar adds up. Sometimes, what may sound obvious can easily be overlooked. Take this example: 'They's all really excited about the upcoming trip.' When speaking to others, we often mix up our tenses, so specific sentences may seem right when you read them initially; this is especially true when you read a sentence with contractions. Which one jumps out more? 'You's right' or 'You is right'?

  4. Double negatives: I'm sure you've heard this before: 'We didn't see nothing,' or 'I ain't got no time for this.' Even though this is common in colloquial language, it is not grammatically correct. If you see double negatives, change the sentence so only one negative remains. For example: 'We didn't see anything,' or 'We saw nothing.'

Punctuation

The punctuation issues I come across most often are:

  1. Comma splice: A comma splice is two or more complete sentences connected with a comma. If this happens, you're better off changing the comma to a full stop or a semicolon or leaving the comma and adding a coordinating conjunction (and, so, or). For example: 'I finished my work early, I decided to go for a walk.' This should be:

    1. 'I finished my work early. I decided to go for a walk.'

    2. 'I finished my work early; I decided to go for a walk.'

    3. 'I finished my work early, so I decided to go for a walk.'

  2. Comma: A comma separates clauses so the meaning of a text is clear to all readers. The rules on when to use a comma are not set in stone, and different style guides may recommend different practices. One of the best-known examples of the importance of the comma is the following: For example: 'Let's eat Grandma.' (We are eating Grandma. Maybe a nice piece of seasoned leg?) 'Let's eat, Grandma.' (I am telling Grandma, 'Let's eat'. I am eating with Grandma. Maybe a nice roast?) For clarity, a comma is often placed behind an introductory clause and around an interrupting clause. For example: 'Last month, we were playing Monopoly, that game where you can buy streets and get rich, and I was the dog.' Like I said before, these rules are not set in stone. Some commas are necessary for clarity, and some can be omitted. And whatever your preference, stick to that. Just make sure your sentence's meaning is clear to your intended reader. More about interrupting clauses can be found here.

  3. Apostrophe: Apostrophes can be tricky. They typically indicate a contraction or possession. You have to be careful when it comes to apostrophe placement because it can change the meaning of your sentence. For example: 'I've been wearing my sister's shoes this week.' (I have one sister, and I'm wearing her shoes. OR I have been wearing the shoes of one of my sisters.) 'I've been wearing my sisters' shoes this week.' (I have more than one sister, and I have been wearing their shoes.) People often make the mistake of using an apostrophe when they want to make a word plural. It happens so often that it's dubbed 'grocer's apostrophe'. Instead of 'Apple's' and 'Potato's' it should be 'Apples' and 'Potatoes'. Take extra care when using apostrophes. You can read more about apostrophes here.

  4. Dashes: There are three different dashes you can use in your writing. Which one you need depends on your intended audience or the style guide you follow. Each has their own usage rules. So when you come across a dash, stop to make sure you've got the right one. These are the three types of dashes you can use in your writing, in short: Hyphen [-]: This one has many uses but is often used to merge two or more words before a noun (solar-powered building). En rule [–]: This one is often used to show range (1–2 degrees Celsius) but can also be used to replace a comma. Em rule [—]: This one is often used in the US to replace a comma. In the UK and US, it is used to show interruption in dialogue and to mark the omission of a word. More about dashes can be found here.

Consistency

Consistency issues I come across most often are:

  1. Hyphenation: Do you use coworker or co-worker? Well-being or wellbeing? Cross-reference or cross reference? Depending on where you live – UK, US, or elsewhere – there may be a preference for either. Whichever one you choose, make sure to use it consistently throughout your document.

  2. Capitalisation: Character names, brand names, or place names are always capitalised. Ensure that all words that should be capitalised are. For example, I have proofread a text where a character used a 'ziploc bag', a plastic bag you can close by zip. Because the name is trademarked, it has to be written with the capital Z: Ziploc. Many brand/trademarked names have become so popular with the public that they have become a general term (Post-it, Hoover, Coke, Velcro); it's worth checking your dictionary when coming across these types of words.

  3. Spelling choices: Some languages have more than one way of writing something. In the UK, for example, words can end with -ize of -ise (familiarise/familiarize). Whichever one you use, make sure to use it consistently. You shouldn't have 'familiarize' on one page and 'familiarise' on another, or 'compromise' for that matter. Ensure all words with -ise or -ize endings are written in the same style.


Formatting

The formatting issues I come across most often are:

  1. Spacing: Make sure you only have one space between words, and delete all excess spacing after a full stop. If you have excess spacing in your document, it can alter your formatting.

  2. Font: Ensure the font type and font size are consistent. Remember to check the font size and type of your chapter headings, subheadings, etc.

  3. Alignment: Is your text justified, left-aligned, or centred? Whichever one you choose, make sure it's consistent throughout.

  4. Headers and footers: Headers and footers can easily be overlooked in the proofing stage because you tend to focus on the main text. Also, remember to check your page numbers, notes, and references if these are in the footer.

  5. Figures and tables: Believe it or not, sometimes figures/tables are printed upside-down or have the wrong caption/number. Always double-check your figures and tables and ensure they're correct.


If you'd like some help proofreading your text, please get in touch via the contact form or email: info@ready2publish.co.uk.

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