There are lots of good ways to proofread a document quickly and efficiently, but it’s hard to be perfect—unless you use multiple proofreaders, or unless you do multiple rounds of proofreading. This is important if you proof a website that will be viewed by 10,000 eyes—or if you have one high-ranking reader (such as a military general or a CEO) who will read it.
But the best a professional proofreader can do is around 90%-95% accuracy, according to studies of human errors performed by Dr. Ray Panko at the University of Hawaii.
So for everyday office documents that we get hired to write, we aim for a 95% accuracy rate, using a 3-draft system:
Edit or Proofread?
Editing focuses on style-related things, such as:
- Sentence length
- Passive voice
- Narrative voice
A proofread is a technical exercise that focuses on:
9 Best Proofreading Strategies
Here are a few of the proofreading techniques that I use every day, and teach in my classes. (If you have a better one, I’d love to hear about it—send me an email!)
#1—Read through the doc 1x for each item.
This is my favorite way to proofread, and I also think it’s the fastest way to proofread a document (as well as the best way to proofread a document). You start out by going through the entire document for just 1 thing (for example, spelling). Fix all of the mistakes for spelling. Go through the document 4 times, once each for:
I find this works fastest when I combine it with #2—printing out the document on paper.
#2—Print the document on paper.
I know that it wastes paper, so I’m hesitant to suggest this—but I still get the absolute best proofread when I print the document out in hard copy and circle my corrections with a colorful pen. Once I’ve circled all the corrections on the hard copy, I enter each correction into Microsoft Word—and check it off with a DIFFERENT colored marker. That way, I can scan through the document very quickly for both colors on each error—to make sure I’ve corrected ALL of the errors.
#3—Walk away from the doc.
When I’m the one writing AND proofreading the same doc, I always try to step away from it for a little while before tackling a proof. Just going out for lunch or coffee helps, but it’s even better if I can finish the draft in the afternoon and leave it overnight to proof in the morning.
#4—Turn on the spelling and grammar check functions in MS Word.
If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can turn on your spelling and grammar error notifications by going to:
FILE > OPTIONS > PROOFING
There, you can set your proofreading detection to be as aggressive as you want.
#5—Read it out loud.
If you read your document out loud, you’ll immediately hear all the wrong words, misspelled words, missing words, and bad grammar. It also slows your brain down a little so you catch other mistakes (like punctuation) while you’re reading.
#6—Get your software or app to read it out loud for you.
If you feel weird reading your document out loud to yourself, try setting your software up to read it out loud for you. Put on some headphones and listen for the mistakes.
#7—Read it backwards.
Going backwards through the document word by word—or sentence by sentence—gets you out of the “flow” of the document, so that you “hear” the errors in grammar and spelling.
#8—Ask a friend to proof it for you.
It’s hard to fix errors if you’ve already read through your doc a million times. And there’s always “that guy” at the office who is awesome at proofreading. Try asking a friend or co-worker to proof your document. (Be prepared to buy him or her coffee—or at least offer to swap documents.)
#9—Try a proofreading app, like Grammarly.
Grammarly is a cool app that corrects spelling and grammar errors in emails, documents, and even social media posts. It’s been around for a few years, and several of my clients use it and love it. Start with the free version, then upgrade if you find it useful.
Have a suggestion for a better strategy for proofreading documents? I’d love to hear it! If I use it in my next blog or book, I’ll send you a $10 Amazon gift card.