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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.


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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