Tips for perfect proofreading

It’s turned into proofing week here at the Emphasis blog. In this final part, we aim to finish turning you into mistake-spotting machines.


Stocking up on red pens is just the beginning. Follow these tips to ensure you always prove your proofreading prowess.

•  Proofread in the morning if you can – if you’re tired, you’re more likely to miss things.

•  Print documents off to proofread – it’s much more effective than trying to do it onscreen.

•  Proofread at least twice – once for sense, once for technical accuracy.

•  Read backwards for typos so you’re not distracted by the meaning of the words.

•  Use a blank sheet of paper to cover material not yet proofed and point to each word as you go.


Look out for:

•  clusters of mistakes: the elation of spotting one may lead you to miss the one right next to it

•  repetition of words – particularly split over two lines

•  commonly mixed up words, eg there and their, or principle and principal

•  little words – big words draw the eye

•  brackets and speech marks – is the second one in the right place?

And finally

Here are a few clarifying pointers – inspired by the challenge – worth raising:

•  It’s very easy to overlook titles, subtitles and headings, or subject lines in email (particularly as they won’t be spellchecked). Don’t! There was a howler in this one.

•  Depending on your company’s style, you may not need to put a comma after the salutation and sign off in letters and emails. If you do use them, be consistent – ie use them after both

•  ‘Its’ only needs an apostrophe when it’s short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. When it shows possession, it doesn’t have one.

•  If you’re having trouble placing an apostrophe in a less-than-familiar construction (eg each other’s work), just reverse it like so: the work of each other (not others). So here it needs to go after the r.

•  You’d only put a full stop – or any other punctuation – inside a bracket if the brackets contain a full sentence. If they contain an aside, the punctuation will be outside. For example:

From now on, let’s make sure that nothing is sent out without first being proofread (this includes email).

Happy proofing!

The definitive guide to transforming the writing of individuals and teams