Proofread like a pro

When you’ve just finished slaving over a report, it can be hard to achieve the distance you need to proofread it effectively. Watch Emphasis CEO Rob Ashton demonstrate five techniques for proofreading any document to perfection.

Proofread like a pro: video transcript

[Rob]: One of the biggest myths about proofreading is that you need a superior brain and a superhuman attention to detail. Well, guess what: you don’t. In fact, your brain could well be the problem. All you need to save yourself from the pain and humiliation of leaving in the howlers is a pen, a ruler and some colleagues.

Actually, one colleague will do.

So here’s what you do.

[1.] Print out your document. Or, if it’s an email that you have to get right, print that out, too. It may seem pointless now that everything is digitised, but it’s actually much harder to see errors onscreen, particularly if they’re your own.

[2.] Take your ruler, and place it under the first line of text. Forget the document’s title for now – we’ll come to that later.

[3.] Take your pen and point individually to each word. That’s because you need to read each word separately. Okay, so unless you have some very understanding colleagues, you might want to do this silently, or take yourself away to a meeting room to do it.

You need to take it word by word, and line by line.

[4.] Now, go back to the title and do the same for that, but this time do it backwards.

Why backwards? Well, you’ve got to stop your brain trying to understand what you’ve written.

It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but as soon as your brain starts trying to understand what you’ve written, it stops seeing what is actually there.

Instead, it replaces it with what it expects to see. And as you wrote it, what it expects to see is something that makes perfect sense, even if it doesn’t. Reading backwards stops you understanding it, so you see the words again.

[5.] Correct your text, and then print it out again, and – if you’re working in a team – ask a colleague to look at it.

Careful, though. Make sure they know that you don’t want them to edit it. You just want them to check it for typos and other mistakes. This is actually very important, as it’s impossible to edit and proofread at the same time.

Oh, by the way, if they do suggest edits anyway (for sense or clarity, say), make sure you print out the changed version and proofread those passages again.

If you want to save trees and you don’t want to print it out, that’s fine. Save the document as a PDF and view that. Or if it’s an email, send it to yourself, to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are sending it to.

Be aware, though, that neither of these will be anything like as effective as proofreading a hard copy with a pen and a ruler. It’s a shame, but there it is.

So there you have it: five steps to proofread like pro. You can find out more about this on our blog, at And in future videos, we’ll also tell you what to look for when you proofread.

[Cathy]: Bye! See you tomorrow!

[Team]: Bye!

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