Ten Tips For Effective Proofreading

Still dazed and confused? Get more information from a lawyer’s guide to writing.

Never underestimate the power of proofreading. For each e-mail sent, brief submitted, and memo circulated at your law firm, it’s important to conduct a thorough proofread.

Not only will proofreading eliminate careless and embarrassing spelling or grammatical errors, it will also provide edits for clarity and comprehension.

Keep in mind, it’s nearly impossible to proofread your own work. So, solicit the aid of a colleague or friend. And, pass on to them these helpful tips for effective proofreading.

1. Find a quiet space

Law firm professionals may be tempted to conduct proofreading on the train ride home or at the end of the day. After all, it’s just a quick read-through, right?

Wrong. Proofreading is as important as the writing itself. It requires concentration and attention to detail that is only possible in a quiet area.

2. Run spell check

Spell check is an amazing tool. Equally amazing is the number of times professionals forget to run it!

This should be the first step in the proofreading process, whether for e-mail or e-filings.

At the same time, even spell check can make mistakes, so watch it with a keen eye. Beware of incorrect corrections.

3. Add industry-specific proper nouns or acronyms to dictionary

Another way to help speed along the proofreading process is to add certain industry-specific terms or acronyms to the spell check dictionary.

For example, if your case surrounds a government agency—say, for example, USAID—go ahead and add “USAID” in addition to “USAID’s” to the dictionary.

Not only will this step help move the spell check process along, adding abbreviations or proper nouns to the dictionary will prevent accidental “accepts” of USIAD (which might even exist as the U.S. International Agency of Disaster-Prevention, for all you know).

4. Read for grammar in isolated paragraphs

After spell check, start proofreading for grammar. This should be done paragraph by paragraph.

Once you’ve finished reading a paragraph, put a check in the margin, so that you remember what you’ve already edited.

5. Proofread in backward order

Editors have a trick up their sleeve for proper proofreading. They often read backward, either sentence-by-sentence, or last paragraph to first paragraph.

By correcting the last sentence first, proofreaders are able to really examine the grammar of the document, as opposed to being distracted by its meaning. Checking grammar from back to front will also allow proofreaders to read more slowly and thus more carefully.

6. Trust grammar check

These days, all word processors come with grammar check. And, like spell check, this technology can make mistakes.

However, if your grammar check is highlighting a sentence fragment or mismatched conjugation, give the phrase a second look. Human error is much higher than computer error.

7. Read for transitions

Finally, when you’ve read for spelling and grammar, take a look at transition words and sentences. Highlight the first and last sentence of each paragraph, and evaluate for interesting and informative transitional phrases.

Editing for flow is equally important as editing for punctuation.

8. Read for comprehension

Last but not least, read the entire document from start to finish for comprehension and clarity. Do you understand the point being made? Were there any sections where your reading level—and understanding—faltered?

Make changes accordingly.

9. If in doubt, read out loud

When in doubt about the sentence structure, read it out loud. If the sentence doesn’t make sense or is too long for an everyday verbal conversation, it’s likely that it’s also too long or confusing for the written word.

10. Don’t forget the headings!

The number one most missed proofreading errors occur in headings.

The content of your document may be perfect, but an unclear or misspelled heading will immediately reduce the confidence of your reader in your overall competence.

Although ten tips for proofreading may seem like nine too many, the best writers in the world, including legal ones, recognize the value of a good editor.

Proofreading is part of legal writing process; so for every hour you spend composing your document, take at least a half an hour for rereading and rewriting it.

-WB

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