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My 15 Best Proofreading Tips

proofreading tips
Here are 15 proofreading tips that have worked well for me for many types of scientific and medical documents. Try them out and select those that work best for you. You will likely develop a few techniques of your own.

See the PDF file Proofreading Marks at a Glance to view and print a list of common proofreading marks. You may want to see how these marks are applied to text as you read the proofreading tips.

Note: If the publisher provides instructions on specific proofreading marks, be sure to follow them closely.

  1. Prepare mentally: Proofreading requires concentration, patience, and time. Ensure that you are not tired, rushed, or distracted.
  2. Gather supplies: Print out the proofs. Even if you are marking a PDF file electronically, work with a printout first. Errors that are missed on screen often “jump out” on paper. You will need a colored pen, a ruler or piece of paper, the original or edited manuscript, and the publisher's instructions (including specific proofreading marks).
  3. See the big picture: First, compare the proof with the original submission (or the edited version if applicable) to ensure that no text, tables, or illustrations are missing.
  4. Consider the details: Next, get ready to proofread all text, tables, illustrations, and references. You will be looking for spelling errors; errors introduced by the copyedit; errors in tables and illustrations; errors in numbers, notation, and symbols; and other types of errors, depending on the publisher's instructions.
  5. Trust no word: Read each word of text, each sentence, and each paragraph slowly and carefully. Take nothing for granted. Place the ruler under each sentence as you work. Alternatively, cover all but the sentence you are proofreading with a blank piece of paper.
  6. Focus on the small things: Circle or highlight punctuation marks and symbols so that you will focus on them. Watch for errors in small words (a, an, and, of, form/from, is, it, the) that are easy to miss.
  7. Study the tables and illustrations: Look carefully at each table and each illustration. Are they in the correct order? Are they in approximately the right place? Are the titles and captions correct? Are all cross-references accurate?
  8. Double-check numbers, scientific notation, and symbols: Be vigilant when checking numbers and notation, both in text and in tables. Are numerical lists sequential? Have all symbols transferred to the page proofs correctly?
  9. Enter two marks for each correction: Enter the in-text mark (line, caret, etc) and then the corresponding marginal mark (symbol or notation). Double-check that you have correctly placed the in-text mark (see examples in Proofreading Marks at a Glance).
  10. Separate marginal marks: Add a slash (/) to separate marginal marks on the same line. To enter identical corrections on the same line, add a slash for each one (eg, caps/ / / indicates caps 3 times).
  11. Jump the margins: Work from left to right, ensuring that the marginal marks correspond with the order of textual marks exactly.
  12. Circle the instructions: Circle marginal marks that instruct, even shortened forms (for example, caps, lc, ital), to prevent confusion about whether these marks are entered into text as words.
  13. Take regular breaks: Decide ahead of time when to take breaks, but stop sooner if you start to rush or become tired. After you proofread the entire manuscript once, take a longer break (at least a day if possible) before starting the next step.
  14. Proofread more than once: A surprising number of errors can be found in the second (or third) round. Separate what you look for in each round: for example, first look for misspelled words, then for numbers and symbols, and then for another type of error.
  15. Try different methods: Try other proofreading tips and techniques. Read out loud as you go, have someone read a copy of the text out loud as you read your own copy, or exchange proofreading tasks with a colleague. Find the technique that works best for you.

Do you have a question about science or medical editing? Do you have proofreading tips to suggest? Simply contact me online and I'll be happy to help.

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