Today, I’m sitting in my office with a red pen in hand, reading glasses perched on my nose, and another writer’s carefully typed manuscript in front of me. Occasionally I circle things and make notes in the margins. Every once in awhile I catch myself gritting my teeth.
This is what I look like when I proofread.
It’s not that the writer’s work is poor, or that this particular writer is sloppy. In fact, quite the opposite is true. And since this job was farmed out to me by a publisher, the work in question has already been read and reread by more than one set of eyes. One assumes the author proofed it before submitting it. An editor has made adjustments to it. Possibly the editor passed it back to the writer where it was altered and read again. Now it is on my desk.
It still contains mistakes.
A “T” missing from “Chapter.”
A key word gone AWOL from a quotation.
Mistyped and misused words.
An odd typeface that crept into the text when no one watched.
Mistakes. Were. Made.
We’re all human. (Well, except for you. Yes, you. Over there in the striped hat. Maybe not you.) We all make mistakes. In fact, I often post something here then find glaring errors I don’t know how I missed while proofreading. Some of the mistakes are results of bad writing habits I’m constantly trying to break, others stem from haphazard typing skills, and then there are the errors my computer plugs in the moment I turn my back.
Goofs. They’re in there.
Maybe your brain pulls the homophone switcheroo (write/right). Perhaps you can’t quite nail down the proper use of who vs. whom. It could be that punctuation gives you fits. It happens.
Your job (and mine) as a writer is to try to catch as many of those mistakes as possible. Think of it as saving some poor proofreader’s eyesight (or possibly sanity). Trust me, mistakes are in there. You can find them. Here are some places to help you identify what to look for when you proofread.
Weber State University has an online list of commonly misused words.
Indiana University has an online pamphlet describing common writing mistakes to keep in mind when proofreading.
Last, but not least, the University of Minnesota has a humorous take on some of the most common writing mistakes.