The Proof is in the pudding: a proofreader's toolkit

Alex | 03.08.19

With the prevalence in recent years of text messaging, e-mail, and discourse in 280 characters, much has been made of the decline of the written word. For brands and marketers, however, a strong grammatically cogent voice enhances our authority and professionalism. While consumers have generally become more tolerant of a less formal communication style, basic spelling and grammar mistakes still serve to diminish their view of a brand. Proofreading, then, is a critical task to ensure clear and professional communication. In honor of the recent passing of National Proofreading Day, we're offering the pros and cons of a few of our favorite proofreading tools.

Spell Check

These days, almost any program you type in will automatically spell check as you work. This is great for when you can never remember if it's "recommend" or "reccomend," or inexplicably want to add an "e" onto the end of words (guilty as charged on both counts). A word of caution, however: just because a word is spelled correctly does not mean that it is used correctly. You probably didn't mean to type "fairly Game," but your spell checker won't catch the mistake because both "fairly" and "Game" are correctly spelled words. While spell check is a useful tool, it's still important to manually review your work, even if it's just a quick glance over an e-mail.

Phone A Friend

A fresh set of eyes can be very useful in proofreading, especially on larger projects or after an author has reviewed a document several times. Generally speaking, if someone doesn't catch a mistake the first time or two through a document, additional passes aren't going to help. Bringing in outside help affords the project a new perspective, as different people's brains tend to pick up on different types of errors more readily. As a former NIumite liked to say, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

Proofreaders' Marks

Once outside help has been drafted into a project, a shared set of marks that each party understands makes the process much easier. Proofreaders' marks might seem like a blast from your middle-school past, but they can be immensely helpful in conveying exactly what someone things should be changed. Chances are good that you won't use all the marks, but at least it's good to familiarize yourself with the basics for your own use or in case you see them from a proofreader.

Track Changes

Another common collaboration tool is the ability to track changes, which is available in most word processing programs and even design programs such as Adobe inDesign. This tool is something of a modern update to proofreaders' marks, allowing a proofreader to track the changes they make to text and automatically generating a comment that explains the change.

Style Manuals

Style manuals are an excellent tool to ensure consistency across a project, or to get a definitive answer on when to use "north" or "North." We personally like the Chicago Manual of Style, but there are a number of great options out there. Keep in mind that different manuals may be associated more with different subject matters, so be sure to do a quick web search before you start proofing. Often times, however, the particular manual chosen is less relevant than is its consistent application throughout a project. The key to style manuals is that they give everyone involved with a project a common base from which to work.

Proofreading Blogs

If you've ever come across a grammar or usage question while writing, chances are you turned to a search engine to find the answer. Often times, search engines will prioritize answers found in blogs because they are more heavily trafficked than other sites. While it's important to vet the credibility of any blog you click on, they can often be a great resource for explaining why a certain rule exists. Additionally, the best blogs often link to a more official source that backs up their reasoning. Following those links can be a good practice to verify that the answer you're getting is valid. We like Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl, but there are plenty of other good options floating around the Internet.

We hope you've enjoyed our quick crash course into proofreading and get good use from the resources listed here. For those of you that need a tl;dr: "Yu din't always rite goodly, so mak shur you profred." If you have some tools that you like to use in your own work, we would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading and happy proofing!