10 tips to develop your proofreading skills

Accurate writing is essential in business and never more so when you are applying for new jobs. Any recruiter faced with a number of CVs will almost certainly screen out those with typing mistakes and poor grammar.

We asked Mark Cochrane – experienced proofreader whose business is called Mr Proofread – for some advice for jobseekers keen to get their CVs noticed.

“There is no doubt that your initial job application is the key to get you through the door to an interview, but how can you be sure that your writing is the best it can be? The easiest answer to this is to get someone else to proofread it; this exposes your writing to a fresh set of eyes, and in the right hands can highlight all of your bad habits.

Why not try to develop your own proofreading tactics? Here are ten ways to fine tune your proofreading skills:

1. Take a break and change your shoes

Allow yourself some time to separate you (the writer) from you (the reader). Some people can achieve this with a quick trip to the kitchen to make a cup of tea or coffee after they have finished writing. It’s important to remember that the person reading your document may not know you, or your situation. When you put yourself in the shoes of a stranger reading your writing you may find parts that don’t deliver your point clearly enough. Identify these areas and develop them for improved clarity.

2. Read your work aloud

This is easier said than done; you must read it slowly and literally. As the writer we know what each sentence is trying to say, so we read it the way we think it is written rather than the way it is actually written on paper. Try to read every word literally and pay close attention to the meaning you are projecting with each sentence. Do this aloud and at a much slower pace than you would normally read.

3. Look for patterns in your mistakes

Pay close attention to the errors you make, this could highlight patterns in your writing which should be fixed. Once you are aware of the typical errors you make, you should remember to look for them in the future. Over time these errors should begin to disappear from your writing.

4. Do not rely on your computer’s spell check

This is a convenience that makes us lazy, and lazy writers definitely produce more errors. Spell check systems won’t catch every mistake. Run your spell check as a time saving activity to catch common errors, and then proofread your document to find the more complex problems within your writing.

5. Slow down

It’s amazing how much you can miss when you try to read through a document quickly. All proofreaders have to learn to slow down when searching for errors. Some people find that moving a pencil or pen underneath each line as they read can help them to focus more.

6. Reduce the level of “waffle” in your writing

Waffling can be highly counterproductive when communicating a point. There is a danger that your reader will miss the point if your writing is padded out with too much “waffle.” They may even decide to stop reading if your message becomes too confused. Everybody “waffles” from time to time, so embrace your “waffle,” identify it and remove it.

7. Don’t let your sentences get too long

Long sentences can form a barrier to stop readers from focusing on your point. When sentences appear to be too long you should try to break them down into shorter sentences. Shorter sentences are much easier on the eye.

8. Do not be afraid to use a dictionary

We all have moments when we can’t remember how to spell a word. It’s just like the time we can’t remember where we left our mobile phone, house keys or whatever it was we had to do when we get to the top of the stairs! During these moments of uncertainty use a dictionary as a reference.

9. Double check your grammar

Take care with words such as: your/you’re, there/their/they’re and to/too/two. Try to think of the focus of your sentence then apply the correct grammatical identity to the word. Whenever you use these words in the wrong context you could send a bad message to your reader. One mistake like this could be seen as nothing; however persistent mistakes like this could be seen as more.

10. Take notice of your use of apostrophes

“Apostrophe” is a word that strikes fear into many people. Bad habits can develop when writing informally in internet chat, forums, mobile phone messages and emails. In these situations it’s sometimes more important to communicate our message quickly, rather than accurately.

You can check for apostrophe problems by skimming your writing for words ending with “s.” Then consider if those word communicate possession, plural or a contraction. Remember that plural doesn’t need an apostrophe.”

Mark Cochrane is Mr. Proofread. Mark is a trained and experienced English teacher who moved his career into the proofreading and editing world after several years of teaching English at all levels. Find out more about him at www.mrproofread.com