How to proofread like a pro in 5 steps

From website copy to brochures to proposals, most small business owners write their own material. But writing is only the first step — after you’ve finished, it’s important to proofread and copyedit. Little mistakes add up to make a business look unprofessional and unpolished. Plus, one little word or letter can be the difference between giving a pass to philandering spouses, undermining your political point, or even something more permanent (and less “awsome”). Here’s how to proofread like a pro.

1. Take a break and read with fresh eyes.

After you write something, take a break — at least a few hours, but ideally a day — before you proof it. Once you’ve looked at something for a while, your brain automatically fills in the gaps and you could be skipping over mistakes. You might also uncover some awkward sentence structure or word choices once you have a little distance.

2. Take your time.

Set aside a time and place to proofread. Make sure you have adequate uninterrupted time to focus properly. This means silencing your phone and letting colleagues know not to bother you. Proofing should take some time — don’t just skim over your material while you’re distracted by other things.

3. Print a hard copy.

We know, we know — who reads things that aren’t on screens anymore? You might as well be reading from a clay tablet or papyrus scroll. But we think it’s important to print a hard copy, especially for lengthy material. Research suggests that our brains respond differently to reading on screens versus paper, perhaps parsing the screen’s text less accurately and comprehensively. But research aside, we find that it’s easier to catch mistakes when we step away from our computers.

4. Recruit a friend.

If you can, ask a friend or colleague to take a look. Two — or three or four — sets of eyes is always better.

5. Be systematic about correcting errors.

Don’t correct mistakes as you go. Mark each mistake clearly on the hard copy. Once you’ve read the entire thing through, go back to the computer and make your changes, checking off each correction as it’s made. Being systematic about fixing errors ensures that you won’t miss any.

Now you’re ready to proofread like a pro. For more small business tips, follow us on social media — where we promise to spell-check all of our tweets.