Proofreading your Work: 8 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Of all the disciplines required to produce a written piece of work, proofreading your work is, arguably, the most important function that needs to be carried out. It matters not how accomplished an author you are; typos, punctuation or grammatical errors will find their way in. We have compiled a list of the more common howlers to be found in unedited documents. So, in no particular order, here we go:

Spelling Names Wrong
Unforgiveable; especially if the name is that of a client or a public figure. Nothing is guaranteed to upset someone more than misspelling their name, or getting it completely wrong.

Not Asking Someone Else to Go Over Your Work
Many writers, particularly those who work from home, just skim through their work, without seeking a second opinion. Even if you pore through your document with the proverbial fine tooth comb, proofreading your work two, maybe three times, you may still miss an error that a fresh pair of eyes will pick up like a sore thumb.

Getting the Date Wrong
This is more common than you may think. I’m typing one handed as I raise my other in shame. This error is easily compounded when you use the day of the week and the date together. Also watch out if you are using a template or copying and pasting similar documents and changing the variables as you go.

Misspelling Words with the Same Pronunciation
I could have saved a whole lot of space there by typing “Homophones” but as this is not a word that I would naturally include in my everyday vocabulary, I’ve gone for the long winded title.

Common examples: their and there; (oh and not forgetting they’re) hear and here; fair and fare; your and you’re; where, wear and ware. I could go on.

Misplacing the Dreaded Apostrophe
This is a very common mistake; most often seen, for some strange reason, on chalk boards in bars, restaurants or cafes. Probably the most common version is it’s when used as a possessive noun.

Mixing US English with UK English
The internet has shrunk the world into a digitalised (digitalized?) global village. To avoid crucial errors while proofreading your work, you need to know your audience. If you are based in the UK and your document is intended for UK citizens, you need to ensure that you use UK English. The same applies to the US and US English. Indeed, if your work is going to be seen in various countries around the world, US English will be the predominant version.  Whichever one you choose, you need to be consistent throughout your document.

Broken Links
Something you need to double check when proofreading your work. There is nothing worse than clicking on to a link in an email or blog that doesn’t lead anywhere. Things to look out for include misspelling the destination URL when setting up the hyperlink in your document.

Wrongly Formatted Documents
Margins and indents can inexplicably move while you are typing; or more commonly, when you publish a piece of work written in a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word or Open Office Writer, through a Content Management System (CMS). It is essential to preview your work, whether you are producing a blog post, some content for a web page, or maybe even an e-book.

Proofreading your work is of vital importance. Getting it wrong can be, at the least, downright embarrassing. At the worst, it could destroy your credibility.


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17 Responses to Proofreading your Work: 8 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

  1. Excellent post, Paul.

    When I attended journalism school, the teacher very clearly told us that if we misspelled a name, we would automatically receive a failing grade on the assignment. That drove home how important is was to spell names correctly, so I’m always very careful about that.

    No matter how long we’ve been in the business, it’s always good to have a second pair of eyes look over our work before it is published. Good tips for all.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..the different stages of a creative writing projectMy Profile

  2. paulforrest says:

    Thank you for your encouraging words, Doreen.

  3. Catarina says:

    Great and true post, Paul. Agree with what you and Doreen say.

    However, those of us who are not native Enlish do make some of the mistakes you mention. English has been my first language for most of my life, but thankfully sub-editors have changed my mistakes. With my blog I have no such service but have thankfully been re-published on major sites anyway.
    Catarina recently posted..Public relations – how to make your business well knownMy Profile

  4. Mary Clair Kelly says:

    All good points and all too easy to forget? What’s really fascinating is the power of the mind to insert words that are simply not there. If you think you know what you have written sometimes no amount of rereading will enable you to spot a missing word. The only sure way around it is to get another person to read it!

  5. paulforrest says:

    Thanks Catarina. I can assure you that those of us who are native English frequently make these sort of mistakes. Congratulations on your blogs being re-published.

  6. paulforrest says:

    Thank you Mary Clair; that is another very good point about missing words.

  7. Jim Murdoch says:

    I cannot emphasise enough the need for a fresh pair of eyes. When you have lived with a piece of writing for a year or longer you don’t read it: you remember it and I have been amazed and rightly embarrassed by the errors that have slipped through after going through a work with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. One of the most ridiculous was getting my own name wrong. But then who reads his own name? You cannot check enough. I carefully proofread my last book, passed it on to two other writers who very kindly also proofread it and both came up with different things from each other, then I passed the book to my wife to edit properly (which she is very good at) and you would be stunned at what the three of us let through and THEN I went through it one last time and still came up with a couple of tiny misses.

    Writing is a language that you are not 100% familiar with is a minefield. The book I was talking about above is set in Ireland in the Thirties and one of the writers who checked it for me is a native but he’s a 21st century Irishman and although he corrected some of my Irishisms one of the things he missed was the use of the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’; commonplace nowadays but there are no words in Irish for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and so they are far more likely to say ‘that is so’ or ‘that is not so’ or something of that ilk.
    Jim Murdoch recently posted..Music to write to (part one)My Profile

  8. paulforrest says:

    Thanks Jim. Great comment. Sounds like your wife is an invaluable source of help to you. You must make a great team.

  9. Roni says:

    I was just getting ready to post a rant on this very subject. I’m currently reading what is obviously a self-published ebook by an author who, by the looks of it, didn’t even bother rereading it himself. There is not a single page with out any typos. It’s very frustrating and annoying. I’m an avid reader and a proofreader and the more I read on my Kindle, the more I realize that people seem to be skipping the proofing/editing step before publishing. This is a HUGE mistake and I hope that more writes will read your article and take heed.

  10. paulforrest says:

    Thanks Roni. You make an excellent point. This is something that we at Double Head Publishing are constantly trying to advise self-publishers. It is not enough to “cut out the middle men”, i.e. the proofreader, editor and publisher. They do their jobs for a reason and self-publishers need to ensure that the work is covered.

  11. Robert Neuschul says:

    Strictly, using the wrong words in the wrong place is not a typo.

    The origins of the term lie in cold metal printing when characters could be transposed or an additional redundant character inss^Herted [sic!], or even inserted ǝpısdn down.

    We’ve evolved the term over the last twenty years or so to cover a much wider sense: of any form of misusage and mistaken usage and of accidents, embedded in any written communications.

    One wider error you’ve left out which is to some extent covered by your point about issues of dates is the handling of numbers, real or literative. Being a picky sort of science geek these tend get to me a little more than many. People frequently start a sentence or paragraph with one form and then switch to another: thus they may start with the numeric and switch to the literative, or vice versa, or else they mix and match. “200 million people are affected by ….” is a mix of formats which is less than elegant.
    Similarly we have all become accustomed to a range of approximations which can conceal either great accuracy or vast ambiguity: the letters “k” and “m” and “g” are frequently used today in relation to abbreviations of numbers or numeric quantities – “1kb” or “$500k” – where “k” is used as a loose shorthand for kilo – thousand. This is fine, but one should note here that in the first example “k” was used as a shorthand in a binary notation that is NOT the same as one thousand, just as “g” may not be one billion.
    And finally, when handling standard abbreviated notations, capitalisation matters: a capital G may not be or signify the same thing as a lower case g.

    Such misuse not only jars the sensibilities of the reader, particularly when addressing an intelligent specialist audience, it’s also technically and semantically inaccurate.

    The rule I grew up with was that when a number is used to start a sentence then it should be presented in literative format and the rest of the sentence should remain in literative format whenever numbers are used: if that structure jars then recast the sentence so as not to start with a number and switch consistently to numeric format throughout the sentence.

    Along with the form of numbers comes the associated issue of other mathematical and physical constants and equations and the forms of their expression: constants such as Plank and Pi and values such as percentages all have recognised standard ways of representing them and should therefore always be written in their standard format. Using the wrong form can in many circumstances actively change the legal/technical meaning without the author even be aware of that change.

    The greatest advice I received on this wider subject of “checking” one’s content came from my late aunt, a one time editor at The New York Times and then later at Scholastic: “Writing, editing, fact-checking, proof reading and layout are all distinct tasks that engage different parts of the brain. Attempting to mix and match these tasks in the same working session will always allow some errors to slip through undetected and will also and almost universally generate additional errors and issues as well. Focus on one single task and don’t let yourself be distracted from it: if undertaking a spell-check then however tempting it may be to change a layout here or add punctuation there, don’t do it! You’re changing focus and allowing yourself to be distracted.” As a rider to that she would always add “Take 10 between tasks!”


  12. paulforrest says:

    Thank you Robert, very informative.

  13. Everything you say is stuff I’m always afraid I’ll do, so I appreciate every single point. The one I like the best is your mention of “fresh eyes.” So true, so true.
    I was working on a manuscript for several years, editing and re-editing countless times by myself, and I didn’t catch so many things. Homophones and things. “Shutter” that should have been “shudder”. That’s the one I’ll never forget. It was only a few things, but I was appalled when they were brought to my attention.
    I had thought my proofreading was flawless!

  14. paulforrest says:

    Thank you Georgianna. You can never underestimate the value of a fresh pair of eyes.

  15. Hi Paul.
    Great advice all round. I find that reading my work out aloud highlights my errors- its fairly tireing but well worthwhile– it also helps one to spot the overuse of certain words– you relise you have used the same adjective five times in the last three pages sort of thing–

  16. Adam says:

    I am notorious for my misspellings..I once got a mention from Dave Barry on his blog for one of my use of a homophone, 6000 plus hits to that post. Sorry to say it was a free blogger blog that is no longer up.
    Additionally, I had been out of school for several years, and had been using the same resume that I got graded on in college. A potential employer found a misspelling that even my teacher did not find along with countless others.

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