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These 10 top tips for proof-reading may be simple – but they will make a difference (10 Sep 18)

Have you noticed how even tiny things can make big differences when it comes to communications?

Some examples are hilarious. A little slip of the finger causes public services to become pubic services. And you only hear about it when a senior manager phones to let you know – or, even worse, it gets into the local press

Embarrassing, right? But not as expensive as the time when a misplaced decimal point changed £1.07 million to £10.7 million in a financial contract.

Not all mistakes have such consequences.

But they do point up something very simple. Attention to detail in written material is vital. And that starts with proper proof-reading.

It doesn’t take a lot of time. And it’s not expensive. But it makes the difference between you looking amateur – and professional.

The tips that follow are almost embarrassingly simple. But then, so are some of the mistakes you see.

TOP TIPS FOR PROOF READING

Print out the document in one and a half or double spacing

Have the computer file(s) available if possible

Spell check, but …
· First make sure the document is written in UK (ie not US) English
· Don’t rely on it – the spell checker will only pick up words that are not in its dictionary (ie it won’t pick up an incorrectly used word)

If the text is for publication, do a global ‘search and replace’ for:
· Double spaces (replace with single spaces)
· Dashes (-) which should be en-dashes (–)

You can search a number of Word or PDF documents at once

Consistency is important

Check for consistency in, for example:
· Hyphenation (eg ‘email’ or ‘e-mail’; ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’; ‘sub-committee’ or ‘subcommittee’)
· Capitalisation (eg, ‘internet’ or ‘Internet’; ‘government’ or ‘Government’)
· Spelling (eg, ‘acknowledgment’ or ‘acknowledgement’; ‘judgment’ or ‘judgement’)
· Punctuation (eg, ‘ie’ or ‘i.e.’; ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mr’; ‘St.’ or ‘St’)
· Bullet list style (capitalisation and punctuation)
· Use of figures (eg ‘ten or 10’, ‘one million or 1 million’, 1000 or 1,000)
· Style for references

Follow the house style, if there is one. If you don’t have a house style to follow make up your own – and here’s how to do so:

Creating a House style
· Draw up a chart with six boxes, labelled A-D, E-H, I-L, M-P, Q-T, U-Z
· As you read through the text, using these boxes make a note of words that could be presented in different ways (see the piece on consistency, above)
· Decide which style you are going to use (such as ‘government’ rather than ‘Government’, numbers 11 and above in figures)
· Search and replace for each of the above – but, with capitals, remember to check for words that start sentences

Look out for duplicated words – particularly at the end and beginning of lines

Remember to check:
· headlines
· running headers/footers (do they match the chapter/section title?)
· the contents list
· levels of headings

If the document includes references, tick each one against the bibliography (if there is one) as you go along

If there isn’t a bibliography, make a list of the references as you go along

Make sure any acronyms are explained when first used (for example, ‘council for voluntary service (CVS)’; ‘primary care trust (PCT)’

If the document includes a glossary make a list of the acronyms used as you go along

Have a dictionary handy

Look out for commonly misused words, such as:
· principal (most important) – principle (a standard)
· it’s (it is) – its (belonging to it)
· effect (verb: to cause to occur; noun: the result of something) – affect (verb: to make a difference)
· station ary (not moving) – station ery (envelopes etc)
· ensure (to make certain) – insure (protect against loss)
· programme (on the TV) – program (computer software)
· practice (noun) – practise (verb)*
· licence (noun) – license (verb)*
· advice (noun) – advise (verb)*
· dependent (adjective) – dependant (noun)

*An easy way to remember these is ‘c’ becomes before ‘s’ and ‘noun’ comes before ‘verb’ in the alphabet

And commonly misspelled words, such as:
· acco mmodation (two ms)
· l ia ise (two is)
· benefi ted (one t)
· budge ted (one t)
· targe ted (one t)
· ne ce ssary (one c; two ss)
· mi lle nnium (two ls; two ns)
· commi tment (one t)
· commi tted (two ts)
· focu sed (one s)

Hope all that helps.

If the topic interests you why not run an in house course on Report Writing? Email rod@rodlaird.co.uk   

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