by Jill Svihovec

What proofreaders do is invisible to readers, because we make the mistakes disappear.

Careful proofreading can spell the difference between your book going to print with the word “patent” where you intended it to be “patient.” Having proper subject/verb agreement. And avoiding discrepancies in verb tense.

Proofreaders often see mistakes that a spellcheck program will not catch. They occur when words are spelled accurately, but used incorrectly. Examples I’ve spotted in published materials are “form” that should have been “from,” “swill” instead of “swig,” “dessert” rather than “desert,” and “jut” in place of “just.”

As a professional proofreader, I’ve seen it all.

In 72-point type on the front cover of a document: “DIARY Queen” instead of “DAIRY Queen.”

On a different cover: the name of a large consumer electronics company was misspelled “BUST Buy.” It should have been “BEST Buy”.

There are more common errors, too. And here’s how to find them.

Print it

And then read your document on paper. With a pencil! Not only to help keep your place, but so you can do instant corrections.

Get help

Your backup eyeballs can be professional proofreaders—but also friends, family, colleagues, and other writers. It’s surprising how many differences will be detected by different people.

Backward it read

Sounds strange, but read a paragraph here and there backward. Doing so will force you to slow down and carefully consider each word. I often notice at least one inaccuracy when I do this.

Change the typeface

Courier works well to put a little extra space between each letter, which can help you to slow down while reading.

Say it

Reading out loud can be the most successful of the proofreading techniques. Do it slowly and carefully, really concentrate, and make sure you say each word. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes you’ll find.

Go letter by letter

Reading character-for-character instead of word-for-word. (Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it will work.)

Use a line guide

The professional ones look like wide bookmarks, and proofreaders often use them to help keep our places while working. You can make them by folding sheets of paper three times, as if you were going to slip them into a business-sized envelope. To use, put the top edge of the folded sheet under the line you’re currently reading, and move down as you go.

Keep a list

Keep track of your most common mistakes–are there words you always misspell?–then check each draft for them before sending your manuscript to anyone else to read. The fewer errors your work has when it gets to the editing stage, the more your publisher’s proofreaders and editors can focus on problems you don’t realize you’re having.

Don’t rush

Taking breaks at regular intervals and not proofreading while you’re distracted or sleepy.

In my workplace, a large financial printer, we say that mistakes aren’t actually mistakes unless they get to our clients. As a Career Author, you can make it easier for the rest of your team if you’re careful with your manuscript. And learn the proofreaders’ marks, too. That’ll make everyone’s lives easier.

And remember, proofreading is a specific, involved skill, one that is separate from writing. Trying to do them both at the same time means they’ll step on each other’s toes.

Do you have any proofreading tips? Let’s talk on the Career Authors Facebook page.


Jill Svihovec lives in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she tries to hibernate six months out of the year. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, she has been a professional proofreader since 2000. She works overnights and yes, she loves the hours. She also likes Harvey’s Seatbeltbags, traveling wherever and whenever possible, and her rescue kitty, Sidney.