Proofreading is an essential step in any writing process to ensure accuracy, clarity, and professionalism. Here are ten common mistakes to watch out for that I come across regularly:
1. Spelling Errors: It always amazes me how quickly people tell me that they can't spell. Well, spelling errors are very common and even the best can make mistakes from time to time. If anything we see fewer and fewer actual spelling mistakes as Word's spell check and Grammarly's little red wiggly lines are very effective at spotting them. What they can't do, however, is spot the other type of spelling errors - typos and misspelled words are common mistakes that can be easily overlooked. These mistakes can happen with omitted letters but what is left is still a word e.g.:
Planet - Plane
Seem - See
Whole - Hole
Start - Star
Life - Lie
Flat - Fat
Race - Ace
Train - Rain
Drive - Dive
Lost - Lot
Best - Bet
2. Grammar and Punctuation Mistakes: English grammar is a funny, funny thing and it is easy to overcomplicate it. At the heart of it, whatever you are writing needs to make sense to anyone who reads it and following the grammatical rules (even if you don't know what they are called) will help you do this. Trust your gut and read it back, if the meaning is unclear it is probably to do with your grammar.
More about common grammar mistakes coming soon.
3. Capitalisation Errors: We all learn that a capital letter is at the beginning of a sentence and for proper nouns but does that include job titles? A good rule of thumb is to break the rules when to do so makes sense in your industry. For example, 'case manager' strictly speaking, shouldn't be capitalised however, lots of companies like the title capitalised so it stands out and adds gravitas. In this case then, as a proofer, I look for precedent, flag it up and go with what the client wants.
4. Homophone Confusion: Pay attention to homophones, like "their," "there," and "they're," or "its" and "it's." These words sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, mistakes with these are not always spotted by AI.
5. Word Repetition: Watch out for repetitive use of the same words or phrases. It's important to vary your vocabulary and sentence structure to keep the writing engaging and avoid redundancy. Include with this how you start your sentences and paragraphs. A good tip (especially with a longer text) is to use the 'find' function to see how many times you have used a word or phrase and replace with a synonym as necessary.
6. Missing or Extra Words: We have all seen these puzzles - adding extra words is a very easy mistake to do, especially if you are constantly being interrupted (working from home with kids springs to mind). Our brain knows what we mean and so will
skip over mistakes like this. Check for missing words or extra words that may have been accidentally added during the writing or editing process by utilising the read aloud function on your computer or even the old fashioned way - get someone else to read it for you. Read the text carefully to ensure the sentences make sense and flow smoothly.
7. Inconsistent Formatting: Keep an eye out for inconsistent formatting, such as variations in font styles, sizes, or indentation. Make sure headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering are consistent throughout the document. I have a blog coming soon about a little button that makes this so easy to fix - you are going to love it.
8. Incorrect Usage of Apostrophes: Again this is one that spell checks can miss. Misplaced or unnecessary apostrophes are very common mistakes. Check for correct usage of possessive apostrophes (e.g., "John's book") and contractions (e.g., "can't" instead of "cant"). Keep a careful eye out for possessive apostrophes for time e.g., In three months' time. In this example the month is plural and the time belongs to it so the apostrophe goes after the s.
9. Confusing Verb Agreement: Ensure that verbs agree in number and tense with their subject. Singular subjects should have singular verbs, and plural subjects should have plural verbs. More on this in my grammar blog coming soon.
10. Wrong Word Usage: Lastly, watch out for commonly confused words, such as "affect" and "effect," "accept" and "except," and "complement" and "compliment." Using the wrong word can change the meaning of a sentence. Personal bug bears of mine are "stationary" and "stationery" and "practice" and "practise" (a US spell check will not pick up on the latter).
Remember, proofreading should be done slowly and methodically. Reading the text aloud or from the end to the beginning can help you focus on individual words and sentence structure, making it easier to spot mistakes.