Checklist: 20 proofreading tips from Hemingway


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20 Proofreading Tips From Hemingway
Hemingway wrote the end of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ thirty-nine times.
Proofreading is not only about grammar and punctuation, but also content, style, and tone.

Here are 20 tips and techniques to proofread your documents, blogs and emails.

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Checklist: 20 proofreading tips from Hemingway

  1. 1. 20 Proofreading Tips From Hemingway Hemingway wrote the end of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ thirty-nine times. Proofreading is not only about grammar and punctuation, but also content, style, and tone. Here are 20 tips and techniques to proofread your documents, blogs and emails. What is proofreading? Proofreading is the difference between calling someone a manager and the mange. It’s one letter. The spellchecker won’t (not wont) find it but others will. 20 Proofreading Tips Here’s a framework for proofing any kind of business document. Let me know if this works for you and what you’d add. 1. 24 Hour Break – After you’ve finished writing, put it aside for one day. Get more great checklists at
  2. 2. Resist the urge to hit Publish when feeling the white heat of inspiration. Instead, cool down, give yourself some distance and look at in the morning. You’ll be glad you did. It’s easy to confuse affect and effect, currently and momentarily and other subtle beauties. 2. Print it – Then find a quiet place where you can edit the document slowly. Notice how you see things on the written page that you missed on the screen. Your (not you’re) eye will catch these when printed. If this isn’t practical for all documents, at least print out those that must be checked thoroughly. Some documents are more important than others! 3. Increase the Onscreen Font Size – Don’t have time to print it out or don’t have a printer? Workaround. Increase the point size or use the zoom tool to make the text easier to read. Another trick is to use a non-standard font. This forces you to slooooow down and read more carefully. 4. Facts – Assume all facts are wrong. Double check every fact on the page – it’s your name that goes on the byline. Likewise, check percentages carefully. Did you really mean he got a 200% payrise or was it 20%? Also, be careful with dates. Don’t write Tuesday, May the 7th when May the seventh is actually Thursday. Spellcheckers don’t find these mistakes. Get more great checklists at
  3. 3. 5. Headers and Footers – If you’re using an internal company template, make sure to change the default settings in the header and footer. Also check that they don’t refer to the previous document, i.e. if you’ve went File, Save As to save time. 6. Document Properties – Change the File, Properties if you’re sending a MS Word document. Otherwise the setting will show the previous document’s details. Also captured during PDF conversion. 7. Read Backwards – Don’t start on line one, page one. Start at the very end and, using a ruler, work your way back to the top. This forces you to pay attention and stop momentums. 8. Use a wooden ruler – Put it under each line as you read. Again, this forces you to pay attention and stop your eyes jumping ahead. 9. Look for Gaps – Check for the most obvious piece of information and see if it’s there. For example, have you included the date on an invitation? Have you mentioned the name of the site and included a link? Have you included the person’s job title. Have you dated the press release? 10. Achilles Heel – We all have problem areas when it comes to editing. Create a list of those that trip you up. Print it out. Put it on the wall. Check this after you’ve completed the first round of edits. Congratulate yourself when you find one. Get more great checklists at
  4. 4. That’s what it’s there for! 11. Read it aloud – Maybe not in the office but book a meeting room, print out the document and read it aloud. Your ear will pick up where the tone is wrong, transitions that don’t work, and sections that need to be revised. 12. One problem at a time – Don’t try to proofread the entire document in one go. Instead, proof it several times. Each time focus on a different area. For example, check the spelling, then grammar, then format, then tone, then facts and so on. 13. Use proofreading checklists – I know editors that keep checklists next to their desks and use them when proofing documents. Why? Nine times out of ten, you’ll catch all the mistakes. But, when you’re working late, under pressure, feeling unwell or stressed out… it’s hard to think clearly. Checklists are there to remind you what you’d usually remember to check but may overlook when stressed. Don’t let pride undermine your efforts. 14. Get Help – Proofing your own work is a recipe for dysentery, sorry disaster. Phew! Ask someone else to review it for you. Don’t just hand it to them. Get  them started by saying, for example, ‘I’m not sure if I covered all the angles. What’s do you think I missed?’ They’ll tell you and catch a few gremlins in the process. Get more great checklists at
  5. 5. 15. Proofreading Spelling Mistakes There are three problems here. ■ One is that something may be spelt incorrectly. Easy to fix. ■ The second is when it’s spelt (or is it spelled) correctly but used in the wrong content. ■ A third is when foreign words enter your text unawares, usually when copy and pasting. Unless your spellchecker is setup correctly, it won’t catch it. Some repeat offenders include: ■ their (possessive form of they); there (place); they’re (contraction). ■ accept (verb, meaning to receive or to admit to a group) instead of except (usually a preposition, meaning but or only) ■ who’s (contraction) v whose (possessive form of who) ■ its (possessive form of it) v it’s (contraction of it is or it has) ■ affect (verb, meaning to influence) v effect (noun, meaning result) 16. Punctuation You’ve probably read the book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Adding or deleting a comma in the wrong place changes the meaning of a sentence. Get more great checklists at
  6. 6. Use a comma to: ■ Signal a pause between the start and main part of the sentence. ■ Join two independent sentences with a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). ■ Signal the presence of a nonrestrictive element. ■ Separate the items in a series. 17. Apostrophes Apostrophes are the glue that tags one word onto another. He’s, it’s, user’s,   school’s and so on. Apostrophes show that one thing belongs to another. It’s also used to contract words. This allows us to compress cannot into can’t… but not cant, which is a different word. 18 & 19. Active and Passive Verbs Nothing wrong with active or passive verbs. Each have their own place. However, be careful when you use this construction. ■ In active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb ■ In passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb. If you want to avoid naming someone or something, then use the passive verb. For example, ‘the car was crashed by a member of government.’ Get more great checklists at
  7. 7. …is softer than, ‘a member of government crashed the car.’ 20. Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers One way to proofread misplaced or dangling modifiers is to highlight them with a pen. Then connect them to the word they’re describing. This helps you track which is the correct word (i.e. being modified). To fix this, move the misplaced modifier closer to the word it describes. Conclusion In proofreading, take nothing for granted. Unconscious mistakes are easy to make, especially when proofing what you’ve wrote. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and hear the words as well as see them. Two senses are better than one! Finally, it’s twice as hard to find mistakes in your own work as in someone else’s – so assume that there are mistakes in there. Now go hunt them down! What else would you add? What’s the one thing that trips you up when proofing your documents? Get more great checklists at
  8. 8. About Ivan Walsh Got a question about improving your business? Contact me on Google Plus, @KlaritiDotCom, or Facebook Get more great checklists at