Science communicators share their proofreading tips

With help from fellow members of the professional body Australian Science Communicators, Dr Ian McDonald shares some tips for proofreading your writing. Follow Ian on Twitter: @ianmcd85

proofreading

Publishing your work has never been so quick or easy, but proofreading is still an important skill to learn. Photo: Jodi Green www.flickr.com/photos/jodigreen/

I’m sure I am not the only one but I always find that proof-reading your own writeing is difficult – particularly when you are trying to find that last typo. Now, how many of you noticed the three errors in my first sentence? Even the smallest typo or grammatical error can distract the reader from the theme of a paragraph, even article. Do they remember what you are writing about or do they only remember that you misspelt a word (writing), added a hyphen (proofreading) and were not consistent in your style (I’m and I am).

I have learnt from personal experience. Putting hours of effort into researching, planning, writing and editing articles only to have readers point out that one typo you missed – frustrating yet completely understandable. It’s the industry we are in, so we have to deal with it. So, who was I going to call on to get some of the best tips in Australia – well the Australian Science Communicators of course.

Before I summarise the tips and hints from the ASC e-list discussion, I did want to point out that yes, I agree that getting another person to proofread your writing is one of the best ways of picking up those final errors. However, sometimes this isn’t possible – your article might need an urgent release and your usual “go to proofer” might be away. So what else can you do?

Below is a list of tips suggested by our fellow peers and thanks to everyone who replied to my initial email – it was really appreciated.

  • Read your article out loud – the ear picks up errors the eye just glosses over.
  • Read your text backwards word by word – that’s another way of making familiar text unfamiliar.
  • Switch the order of the paragraphs around and read it like that.
  • Change the style and size of font – the eye/mind gets used to seeing similar displays and skates over them. By making them unfamiliar, it treats them as new, locking on to faults.
  • Proofread in one sitting (usually hard copy), in a quiet place during the time of the day when you are most alert.
  • Look at different elements (captions, images, grammar, document style) in further readings (electronic version can be helpful).
  • Maintain drafts of proofed versions after document is published, so if errors are picked up later you can trace the source of the problem (graphic designer, you, other person).

If your work isn’t required urgently some suggested that leaving it for a few days will help to pick up far more errors than if I try to conduct the proofreading soon after finishing the writing. Finally, if you or someone else does pick up errors after you publish your work, correct the electronic file where ever possible.

Some useful resources were also suggested:

Style manuals

  • The News Ltd Style Guide – especially useful if your role involves more media and news writing rather than corporate and government communication.
  • The Australian English Style Guide by Pam Peters – this works a little bit more like a dictionary i.e. you can search alphabetically for ‘semicolons’ or ‘hyphens’ and it will explain correct/most common usage.

Books

Online programs

  • PerfectIt is useful for finding typos and inconsistencies in MS Word documents. It’s not free, but there is a 30-day free trial. Note: I did download this program to test and it did pick up on the use of a hyphen in proofreading which the word spell check did not.
  • If you work on a Mac, there is a ‘text to voice’ function, in which the computer will literally read a selected passage of text out loud to you.

Feel free to add to this list by commenting on the story below or adding to the ASC email list discussion (you’ll need to be a member – see details below).

This article was originally written by Dr Ian McDonald for the Australian Science Communicators. It was posted on 2 November 2013 and is reproduced here with written permission from the author.

More more information about Australian Science Communicators, including how to become a member, visit www.asc.asn.au. Student membership is a small investment of $35.20.

This entry was posted in journalism, public relations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Science communicators share their proofreading tips

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks for the great tips, I’d heard of reading backwards or aloud before but I’d never thought about the effect of changing font and size! I’m sure I’ll use a few of these techniques sometime soon 🙂

Leave a Reply