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Proofreading

Proofreading is the final step before submitting or publishing a professional document —and you will occasionally find yourself proofreading when you’re sick and tired of the document, when you’ve been working on it too long, or perhaps when the document is overdue. Avoid the natural tendency to skip proofreading, or to do it hastily.

Careful proofreading can enhance your professional credibility. And the corollary of that claim is this: If you turn in a document with factual errors, numerical inaccuracies, misspellings, and inconsistent formatting, readers will think you are sloppy, careless, ignorant, or all of the above. You might think misspelling the word "receive" shouldn’t cause people to judge you harshly—but some people will do precisely that.

For company documents with a broad distribution—for instance, forms, informational flyers, technical instructions, web pages—careful proofreading becomes even more important. (You don’t want to find out that the form letter you just mailed to 15,000 customers has the wrong phone number on it.) In the case of corporate documents with a large audience, it’s not just your reputation on the line, it’s your company’s, and so careful proofreading is all the more vital.

Proofreading for information accuracy

First and foremost, proofreading involves checking for information accuracy. Are your numbers (and numbering) correct—addresses, calculations, model numbers, and dates? Are names and titles accurate? Especially if you are in a technical field, it’s important to get the information and facts right!

Proofreading for grammar, spelling, mechanics, capitalization

Be sure to proofread carefully for spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammar errors, mechanical lapses, and capitalization problems. Remember to use the spell checker in your application program—but don’t rely 100% on that spell checker to catch every problem!

Careful proofreading can help you avoid embarrassing errors, such as the ones below (which your spell checker won’t catch):

"We were very pleased to make your colleague at the recent sales conference."

"Thank you for your king consideration."

Be sure to capitalize proper nouns and names, but do not capitalize ordinary words.

1. I was enrolled in ENGL 421, Technical Writing, at Purdue University.

The phrase "Technical Writing" is capitalized because it is a formal course name.

2. I took a course in technical writing.

The phrase "technical writing" is not capitalized because it refers to a general subject.

3. I graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. "Chemical Engineering" is capitalized because it refers to the title of a degree.
4. I have worked in the field of chemical engineering for fifteen years. For six of those fifteen years, I was a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois.

The phrase "chemical engineering" is not capitalized in the first sentence because it refers to a general field.

It is capitalized in the second sentence because there it refers to the name of a department.

Be especially alert to the spelling of homophones—that is, words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings:

its
vs.
it’s

"it’s" is a contraction which always stands for "it is" ("it’s raining outside")

"its" is the possessive form of the pronoun it ("the cat licked its paws")

complement vs. compliment

"to complement" means to coordinate well with

"to compliment" means to say something nice about somebody

forward
vs.
foreword

"forward" refers to a direction, as in "the band marched forward"

"foreword" refers to the front section of a report or document

For additional help with these issues, check out the online materials available in the Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation section of the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab).

Proofreading for format correctness and consistency

When you check for format correctness and consistency, you look at the graphical, visual, and layout elements for a document. For some documents, you are expected to follow a given template. For instance, in a business letter using full-block format, all the required parts of the letter should be present and they should all be aligned to the left margin. When you are creating a list of references for a technical report, you have to follow precisely the standards of a particular style guide (APA, Chicago Manual, etc.).

Even when you are not using an established style template, you always have to check for format consistency of heading styles, column alignments, and line spacing. You have to make sure that indentations, margins, and spacing are consistent through out the document. Are you using one space or two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence—and are you consistent with that spacing through out the entire document?

Proofreading help

It might be wise to have somebody else (somebody with a good proofing eye) double check your documents. Even if you are a careful proofreader, if you have revised a document 10, 12 or 20 times, you may not be "seeing" it precisely or accurately. You have to be very skilled at shutting off your "writer’s eye" and shifting to your "proofreader’s eye" in order to proofread work that you have written and revised extensively. You have to ignore the content and the substance of the message in order to focus on the words, the syntax, the format, and the mechanical elements.

Proofreading online documents versus proofreading paper documents

Can you effectively proofread a document online? Not if you’re proofing a dense letter written in 10 pt. Times New Roman font. Of course it depends on your monitor resolution and on the quality of your printer, but for most writers, a print version of a document will be clearer and more legible—and hence, easier to proofread —than the on-screen document. If you do want to proofread online, you can help yourself by changing the zoom setting (to, say, 125% or 150%) to make the text appear larger. Even using this method, however, it is difficult to do certain forms of proofreading online. For a long report, for instance, it’s better to work with a print version, which makes it easier to check format consistency across an entire report.

For additional help with proofreading, see the section on Proofreading Strategies of the Purdue OWL.


Exercise: Proofreading a Job Application Letter

No documents need to be proofread more carefully than your job application letter and résumé. A simple spelling error or comma lapse might be viewed as harmless in a six-page technical report. But in a job letter or résumé it could be viewed as a sign of carelessness (at best) or perhaps even ignorance. Workplace readers are fairly judgmental and intolerant when it comes to errors in the job letter.

Practice your proofreading on the sample job letter below. See how many errors you can find. (Hint: If you can find 25+ errors, then you’re pretty good. If you can find 35+, then you must be a skilled proofreader!)

 

John Q. Napster

245 Locking Road
Dayton, Ind. 47907
(764) 688-4596

 

Ms. Alberta Gore, Systems Development Support
4789 Outland Ave.
Federal Express Corporation
Memphis, TN 38118

October 11, 2000

Dear Miss Gore,

Your advertisement for a Programmer in the September edition of Computerworld mazazine describes a very intriguing development environment, and one that I’m interested in learning more about.If you need for state of the art software specialist remains unfulfilled, my enclosed résumé may interest you.

My experience in the U. S. Navy has instilled me with a high regard for Excellence and Achievement which I strive to maintain daily in both my personal and professional activites. My BS in computer science engineering degree from Northern Colorado State University has provided me with the educational necessary for doing high level programmng. During college, I have worked full time as a programmer to support my family, and have managed to maintain a near perfect grade point average. My programming background using C and C++ as well as my familiarity with object oriented development methodologies would be a positive addition to your Colorado Springs Development Team.

It would be my pleasure to meet with you to discuss how well my skills might fit your current requirements for an Application programmer, and and what contributions I could make to your Company. Perhaps we may also disgust your vision of those technological advances that interests us both.

Enclosed are my résumé and statement of purpose. I look forward to meeting with you for an interview at your convience. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contract me at 764/688-4597.

Sincerely,

John Napster

3.16.11






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