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Proofreading for Profits

How to avoid mistakes that undermine your credibility

You're probably already familiar with the spell checker built into your software. Some work automatically as you type, others only run when you activate them.

Spell checking is just the start of your proofreading tasks. Don't let simple grammatical errors, or text omissions, sabotage your message. Here are some things to check for that go beyond the capabilities of your software program's spell checker.

But, spell checkers are not infallible! Know what yours checks-and what it doesn't check. Does it check text imported from other programs? Does it flag words containing numbers?

Spell check limitations

Monitor your spell checker's recommendations. Make sure each suggested replacement is a correctly spelled version of the original word, and not an inappropriate substitution. Double-check the spelling of proper nouns and industry-specific terms. Use care adding them to your custom spell check dictionary, or they will be misspelled forever!

Grammatical errors

Watch for homonyms-correctly spelled, but misused words-such as to, two, and too, or affect and effect. Most spell checkers are not context sensitive. Watch for singular nouns paired with plural verbs, and vice versa. Make sure you have used correct punctuation, like Em dashes (-) to indicate duration, instead of two hyphens (- -).

Check all dates, times, prices

Have someone else verify dates, times, and prices. It's both costly and embarrassing to send out information that you have to immediately correct. Pay particular attention to numbers. Transposed numbers, i.e., 1,324 instead of 1,234, etc., are very difficult to notice. Before submitting a proposal, posting web content or distributing a newsletter, call telephone numbers, visit web sites and send e-mails and faxes requesting return confirmation.

Make sure you have included all ordering information necessary for recipients to respond. Order your own product, to check autoresponder performance.

Widows and orphans

Check for subheads and the first lines of new paragraphs, isolated at the bottom of a column or page. Ideally, at least two lines of a new paragraph should appear together at the bottom of a column.

Likewise, edit or rewrite to eliminate word or sentence fragments isolated at the top of a new column or page.


Check that you have not hyphenated headlines and subheads. These look awkward and are hard to read. Make sure body copy has been hyphenated. In justified text, i.e., lines of equal length, hyphenation eliminates awkward word spacing. In flush-left/ragged-right text, (i.e., lines of unequal length), hyphenation eliminates alternating long and short lines.

Double-check hyphenation to make sure that words like "therapist" have not been split into "the rapist." Use non-breaking hyphens to keep proper nouns from hyphenating.

Word breaks

Check that you have used non-breaking spaces to keep first names and last names, or dates, together on one line.

Working links

When creating Adobe Acrobat PDF files, check that all links perform properly. Just because URLs and e-mail addresses appear in blue and are underlined doesn't mean that the links are working properly! Recheck links when you edit your original publication file and create a new PDF.

Updating information

When publishing a newsletter, check that issue date and/or issue number information are correct. Double-check headers, footers, captions, and pull quotes.

Formatting and spacing

Check for correct headline, subhead and body copy text styles. Watch out for short paragraphs that should be formatted as subheads. It's very easy to inadvertently change styles during editing. Watch for extra spaces between words and sentences. It is also easy to inadvertently add unwanted space when copying and pasting text. Use Find and Replace to replace two spaces with one.

Duplicate or missing text

Read text out loud to locate awkward or redundant words and phrases as well as omitted words that your mind inserts because it "knows what you meant." Watch for overflow text in text frames at the ends of articles. Often, hidden text is only indicated by a relatively small icon.

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