2 min Read
May 23, 2013

How to error-proof your writing

Katherine Lindstedt

Everybody makes mistakes, sure, but nothing kills good writing like a their that should have been a they’re or a misspelled word. (Trust me, I should know.)

What I mean to say is that nothing detracts more from the professionalism and power of our words than a careless mistake.

The good news: with a little extra care, those kinds of careless mistakes are easy to spot and/or avoid.

The bad news: In the hustle and bustle of life at any nonprofit, it can be tricky to carve out that extra time for a thorough proofread. But trust me, nonprofiteers, it’s really, really worth it.

This is actually something I think about a lot as a writer. As you can imagine, mistakes have their way of popping up in the stuff I write from time to time. Sigh. And I’ve been trying to deepen my ability to proofread, which, after all, is a highly specific skill not really synonymous with writing or editing.

I recently attended a quick crash course in proofreading at the Brooklyn Brainery—which hosts cheap classes on everything from comedy and design to book-binding and Australian desserts and is really worth checking out—where I was reminded that you don’t have to be a professional proofreader to improve whatever process you have in place.

During the 90-minute session, I learned a ton of great tips. Here are some highlights.

  • Many nonprofit communicators—and many people in different professions, for that matter—wear many hats, of which a writing hat, an editing hat, and a proofreading hat are only a mere few. The trick is to put them on one by one. Writing a first draft? Don’t bother searching just yet for spelling and punctuation mistakes. There’s a time and a place for putting on your proofreading hat—at the end of the writing and editing process.
  • There are proven techniques that really work. Read your writing aloud—or even backwards. I struggled with this during the class, but it works.
  • If it feels tedious, good. It should. Keep going. Read it again. And again.
  • If you’re prone to making certain mistakes, rather than being overly hard on yourself, make a list of them, along with names, abbreviations, acronyms, or vocabulary specific to your field. Keep it close by as you write, and make it a part of your own personal proofreading process.

Have any great proofreading tips of your own? Share them in the comments—and don’t judge me if any mistakes slipped through the crack and ended up in this blog post.