The Proofreading Primer

Patrick LaForge, New York Times’ editor of news presentation, offers today’s best in Freshest Advices.

In a memo to the paper’s editors and reporters, he offers “proofreading tips culled from years of journalism tip sheets.”

  • Break your mind-set: Read the copy out loud. Read it silently, one word at a time. Read it backward and focus on the spelling of words. Print a copy. Preview it in a different application. Change the format or the screen resolution. Justify or unjustify the type. Take a break and return to it with fresh eyes.
  • Use spelling checkers but don’t trust them. In particular, be aware of homophone confusion: complement and compliment, accept and except, effect and affect, oversees and overseas.
  • Memorize frequently misspelled and misused words. Here’s a list: http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/misspelled.html.
  • Beware of contractions and apostrophes: their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re.
  • After reading for content and spelling, proofread separately for punctuation.
  • Beware of doubled words at the end and start of a line. A doubled “that” will often slip right by if you let it.
  • Double-check proper names and claims of distinction (first, best, oldest, tallest, etc.).
  • Double-check little words that are often interchanged: or, of; it, is.
  • Check all the numbers, especially any reference to millions, billions or trillions. Do the math. Do the math again.
  • Set aside a regular time to review stylebook and usage rules. This includes backfield editors and reporters. If you don’t want someone to change your story on style grounds (and perhaps introduce an error), learn the basics and follow them.
  • Be aware of dates and days of the week, especially in advance copy or copy that has been held. Be aware of references to next month/last month around the time the month is changing.
  • Make a personal checklist of the things you tend to miss. Use it on every story.
  • Have someone else, preferably a copy editor, read behind you.

Last of all, think of our readers — and care what they think of us.

H/T: Regret The Error.

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