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Proofreading tips

[27 May 2010] Poor proofreading is a perennial problem. Sometimes it’s just embarrassing – like the recent Telegraph Online headline ‘Large Hardon Collider breaks energy record’ (read ‘Hadron’). But it can also cost a business money. Recently, readers of the Penguin Group’s Pasta Bible were left wondering if they were making cannelloni for cannibals, as one recipe suggested seasoning the dish with ‘salt and freshly ground black people’. The publisher had to pulp and reprint 7,000 copies of the book, at a cost of £12,000.

‘The Oxford Guide to Plain English’ (by Martin Cutts) speaks of ‘proofreading blunders that chill the blood’, saying: ‘Proofreading matters. Without it your writing could soon be plagued by uninformed not uniformed police, marital not martial arts, infernal not internal disputes, and pubic not public affairs.’  

Proofreading is not like other reading where you skim-read for information, often in a rush. You need to go slowly, checking once for ‘the big picture’ – layout, headings and type – and then again for detail (sense, spelling, grammar and punctuation).

If proofreading on screen, enlarge the image size and brightness so you can read the type and punctuation easily. Your program’s automatic spell-check can help, though you need to make sure you don’t get tired, go onto auto-pilot and wrongly click ‘Replace’ – that’s what could have happened in the Penguin case. And of course computers won’t pick up a word that is a proper English word, but not the one meant to be there: as the internet poem goes, ‘Eye halve a spelling chequer; It came with my pea sea; It plainly marques four my revue; Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.’

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