Expert view: How to proofread your own work

How to proofread your own work

January 18, 2016

Seen the popular meme kicking around on social media that sums up most of our proofreading efforts?

It simply states: “I do my best proofreading right after I hit send.”

This is so true – but why?


Reading your own work is a massive challenge, primarily because the brain reads what you think you’ve written rather the actual words.

Headlines sub-editor/designer Richard Wayte has worked in the media for decades in a stellar career covering regional newspapers and national motoring titles before joining Headlines 14 years ago.

Renowned for his outstanding proofreading skills, Richard says people can effectively proof their own work – if five simple steps are followed.

They are:

1. Eliminate the common pitfalls
So often work arrives with the same mistakes. For example, ‘undergo’ is one word but ‘under way’ is always two – unless referring to ships getting underway. By knowing the difference between ‘over/more than’ and ‘fewer/less’ (for example) you can help to cut out frighteningly common errors, seen even in publications that should know better.

Richard Wayte
Richard Wayte

2. Think outside the box
You’ve done the hard work. Checking content should be a piece of cake. But, as mentioned earlier, our minds read what we think we’ve written rather than the actual text, creating room for error. Sometimes a fresh approach is needed. Reading your work out loud can help, although this can be difficult in an open plan office. Others start from the bottom and read in reverse, providing vital disruption to thoughts.

3. Go back to basics
Spelling. Double spaces. Punctuation. We take them for granted and that can often be our undoing.
Also double-check names, both of people and companies/organisations. It only takes a second to ensure they’re correct: Mathew and Roald may be right, but Matthew is usual and Roald could be Ronald.

4. Proofread the final product
These days content comes in all shapes and sizes. Videos and picture galleries are often embedded within online articles, while social media feedback can often be found as part of printed work. These extra elements widen the opportunity for error to creep in. Take a few final extra moments to ensure all elements – not just the written content – are accurate, relevant and add to the story.

5. Print it out
Finally, in spite of all our efforts to save the planet, it’s easier to spot errors if the document is printed before reading.