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What should you focus on when you’re proofreading?

What should you focus on when you’re proofreading?

Note: Copyediting and proofreading are different processes, but usually, when people say proofreading, they mean copyediting. However, for the purpose of this article, when I say proofreading, I mean the process of reading through your work after you’ve written it to ensure it’s written well and is free of errors.

Proofreading is the highlight of my day, but for many it’s just another necessary, boring task. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say they hate it.

Nevertheless, everyone knows by now the long list of reasons that proofreading is so important. It’s a crucial step, and you want to make sure you’re doing it well. Knowing what to look for when you’re proofreading will help to make you a better and more efficient proofreader.

Before I get started, you can find a more detailed list of things to look for when you’re proofreading in the proofreading checklist in the free Hedera resource library.

@@Proofreading is crucial, so you want to make sure you're doing it well.@@



I started with this one because it’s just so obvious, and it’s the first thing people think of. There are so many aspects of grammar to look for that I’d be crazy to list them all here. Some things that often trip people up, though, are:

Tip: Always google it if you’re unsure. You can google the answers to most grammar questions and find some amazingly helpful resources.

We wrote a whole blog post about improving your writing by understanding stylistic choices and grammatical rules. Read it here.



Another obvious one, right? But it’s amazing how many spelling errors make their way into blog posts and professional documents. Some aspects of spelling that seem to cause problems include:

  • names and other proper nouns (always double-check! Now that we have Google, we have no excuses for getting names wrong)
  • confusable words (this post goes into a bit more detail about confusable words).

Tip: Read! Read a lot. Not only is it fun, the more you read, the better you’ll get at noticing when words don’t look quite right. I’ve picked up spelling errors so many times just from unconsciously knowing that something’s wrong, probably because I’ve seen the word before (even if I don’t remember it). Last week, I picked up that slight of hand should actually be sleight of hand. How did I pick that up? I have no clue. I just knew—but it was probably because I’ve read it somewhere and it's been stored in my memory bank.


Factual inaccuracies

Getting your facts right is always important, but it’s especially important if you’re writing for readers who know their stuff. For me, I always want to make sure that when I say pronoun, I really mean pronoun and not preposition, because if I’m positioning myself as an expert and I get that wrong, not only am I disseminating incorrect information, I’ll also look like an idiot with no clue what I’m talking about. Double-check everything, especially if you’re writing about something from memory. That is, if I were to write a blog post about World War Two, I’d be checking dates and events.

Tip: If you’re writing something that contains factual elements like names and dates, but you don’t want to constantly interrupt your writing flow to go and check the details, have some way of flagging to yourself what you go back and check. You might write the sentence in capitals so it sticks out at you when you're editing, or you might highlight it, or you might use Word’s commenting system to leave a note to yourself. Whatever works and won’t interrupt your flow.


Structure and cohesion

Although this wouldn’t normally be considered a copyediting or proofreading task, if you’re proofreading your own work, you’ll need to watch out for structure and cohesion.

Structure is all about your reader. What is their purpose for reading your piece? Are they reading it for enjoyment, or to find particular information, or some other reason? Understanding this will guide your structure.

By structure, I mean that your piece of writing isn’t just a collection of random thoughts. For a blog post, this means ensuring that you have a title (that makes sense for your post), an introduction to the post that tells your reader why they should keep reading, the body of the post, and some sort of conclusion, usually. The body also often contains subheadings to guide the reader through the post.

If it’s some other type of writing, you’ll want to make sure you understand the reader’s needs and the conventional structure (even if you break convention, you should always know what it is).

Tip: The best way to analyse whether you’ve structured something well is to come back to it with fresh eyes. When you’ve written something, it’s usually so deeply buried in your mind that you’re not the best judge of how it’s structured. If you come back to it with your reader in mind, you’ll be able to tell whether the structure works.


Style and voice

With style and voice, you mainly want to make sure that it’s consistent and appropriate. You’ll be looking for things like the voice you’re using (active or passive) and the overall tone of the writing. Consistency is important here because you don’t want to confuse your readers by jumping all over the place. Making sure your style and voice are appropriate is important because, if they’re not, you may as well not write anything at all, because you’re not writing for your reader, and that’s usually the point of writing. And by appropriate, I don’t necessarily mean polite. I mean, appropriate to your reader and purpose. That is, if your reader enjoys when you swear in your posts, do that. However, if you’re writing for school children, you’d probably want to avoid swearing. Think about your reader.

Tip: Create your ideal reader avatar. If you don’t know how to do that, or what an ideal reader avatar is, check out this amazing post by Regina that will help you to create your avatar.

We wrote a whole blog post about improving your writing by understanding stylistic choices and grammatical rules. Read it here.


Miscellaneous errors

You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve proofread my writing only to find that I’ve somehow missed out a word or gone back to delete something without making sure the sentence still works. Typos pop in so easily, particularly if you’re not working in a program that points out your mistakes to you (like InDesign or Illustrator).

Tip: Read through your writing carefully. Take your time. (If you’d like more tips like this, see this blog post on proofreading tricks and this other blog post on creating a proofreading checklist.)

As I said earlier, if you’d like a more detailed list of specific things to look for, definitely check out the proofreading checklist template in the Hedera House resource library.

And if you need more help with proofreading, check out these posts or get in touch.

If you want to ask more about any of these points, feel free to comment below. I love talking about proofreading!

@@What should you focus on when you're proofreading?@@

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