A guide to proofing

Checking proofs can be a difficult process as it is very easy to skim the material or unintentionally miss mistakes because you tend to see what you expect to see and not what is sometimes actually there. The biggest brands may have detailed processes in place and teams of dedicated professionals, but they are not immune from errors. We recently were sent a brochure from a high-end national brand that had a glaring error on the first page, which just goes to show how easy it is to have a mistake slip past multiple people. Nobody is perfect, but by following a dedicated process you will minimise the chances of errors, whether minor or glaring.

It is important to be aware that proofing is not simply looking at the content to see if it makes sense, it requires a detailed check because human errors are inevitable. What follows is a guide to help make sure mistakes are minimised which has been compiled from a combination of our own experience having worked with a number of editors and copywriters, and the best advice from a range of articles on various websites:

  1. Ask someone else. You are familiar with the project and so can easily miss the same errors time after time. Get someone else to review it and you may find they are able to spot mistakes you had missed.
  2. Come back to it. It is useful to revisit a proof the next day as this will enable you to look at it with a fresher perspective. This is especially useful if you cannot get a third-party to check it (as above)
  3. Find some space: It is very easy to get distracted and miss mistakes, so make sure you have a quiet space with no distractions (TV, phone, office noise, radio, music, email etc)
  4. Zoom in. It is best to check the proof at actual size on screen as this helps understand the context and get an idea of how legible everything is, but it is a good idea to zoom in as well. This ensures that you can clearly read the text (especially small print or legal text) and prevents issues where some letters can be mistaken when viewed smaller (E and F, and i and l for example)
  5. Zoom out. Viewing the proof closeup can be useful for detail, but you need to check it in context at actual size as well.
  6. Print it out. By all means, proof your project on screen if you prefer to do so and this is the greener option, but it is generally easier to check a printed proof.
  7. Use a ruler. If you place a ruler under each line as you read it, it forces you to slow down and may increase your chances of spotting an error.
  8. Read aloud. This can seem a little odd, but it can help especially as it generally requires you to read slightly slower than if you read it in your head. Not only this, but you then hear how it sounds which can sometimes help spot errors, grammatical issues or when sentences are too long.
  9. Read it backwards. This can seem a little odd and is, of course, no use for checking grammar or the sense of a sentence, but it can help highlight spelling errors.
  10. Perform multiple checks. It is difficult to spot every sort of error all at the same time, so it can be useful to perform several read-throughs and look for one thing each time. The first might be a context and story check – does it make sense and does it read well? Next, you might check for spelling and grammatical errors, then the consistency of style, punctuation, unwarranted repetition of words etc…
  11. Spelling and grammar. If you regularly have issues with certain words consider having a printed checklist so you can use it when proofing. For example, you may always mix up “Their” and “They’re”, or misspell words such as “separate” or  “received” (as I do!). A spellchecker is very useful as is the Grammarly app and website. Another good resource that we use is Bill Bryson’s book “Troublesome words” which deals with a wide range of common writing mistakes and misconceptions.
  12. Consistency. It is important to check consistency across the document. For example, if you had a numbered list (1,2,3 etc) on one page, should the next list be ordered as a., b., c.? If one title is bold, are they all bold? If there is a line space before a paragraph, is this consistent with all paragraphs?
  13. Fact-check. Perform a separate check for the statistics, facts and other details. It is too easy to have added (or deleted) a digit from your phone number, a character in your email or website, or put in the wrong price.
  14. Assume there are multiple errors. It is natural to assume that everything is fine, which can lead to scanning the text rather than reading in detail. If you assume there are multiple errors and you must find them, then your approach will be more diligent.
  15. Assume that there are copy/paste errors. Even if you supply the copy beautifully formatted in Word or another word processor, this does not translate into Adobe Indesign as the programs are very different. Therefore, although such formatting is very welcome, it only acts as a guide for us to format the finished file. Typesetting text from scratch can introduce more errors, but even copying from a supplied document can have issues as it is a manual process and throughout the design process the text is being manipulated and cajoled to fit in a pleasing layout – formats are changed (bold, italic etc), paragraphs are combined or split, text is copied to and from different layout boxes in the design, and so on. All of this increases the possibility of an error being introduced, so never assume that your text has been faithfully reproduced. In fact, it is wise to assume it hasn’t (see point 13 above)
  16. Check more than just the amends. You may have just asked for a single word to be changed, but if you are signing off the final proof then it pays to check over the whole document again as carefully as you can.
  17. Use the PDF to feedback. PDFs are extremely versatile formats and one thing they can do is allow you to make annotations in situ so that you can explain to your designer what you want changing. This is far easier (and clearer) than trying to list amends in an email or explain them verbally over the phone. Our video explains how it all works. Ideally, you should have the latest version of Adobe Reader to do this and you can download it here 

We hope you find this article useful and we’d love to hear any proofing tips you have!

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