Simple Proofreading Techniques

Many people offering editing and proofreading tips focus on the mechanics of writing. Such as noticing spelling, number formats, contractions, homonyms, etc. Status quo.

Most professional writing environments include human editors or a peer review process. What about when working outside such environments? There are some simple techniques to help most people writing documentation for free/libre software.

As a general practice, avoid publishing as soon as possible. Hasty writing creates the same results as hasty code. Let a piece rest before proofreading, which often results in catching prose and context errors too.

As many people these days use basic text editors, a few environment changes help the proofreading process. Most of these changes require the eye and mind to adjust to viewing the text in a different format. Yes, proofreading aides are that simple.

Change the font and size. When normally using a serif font, toggle to a sans serif. Or vice-versa.

Change the background and text color. During the early days of word processor competition, MS Word offered a toggle feature that changed the screen from a white background and black text to “WordPerfect Mode,” which used a blue background and white text. This mode was intended to help people migrate from WordPerfect but was a great proofreading aide. Word also came with something called Draft Mode, which displayed the text without style tags or font faces.

Another simple trick is to change the window size, which changes the line wrapping. This simple aide often bubble outs repetitive words, such as “the the.”

Read out loud. If you do not have an FM Radio voice, close the door to avoid annoying others.

Print on dead trees. The human eye works best using reflected light rather than emitted light. This simple change causes the eyes and mind to respond differently than reading on a monitor.

An alternative to dead trees is to print to PDF or ePub and read the text using a handheld ebook reader.

Writing in a non native language? Ask for a proofreading review from a native speaker.

Spell checkers? Great for catching common typing mistakes. Horrible for finding context mistakes.

Grammar checkers? Mastering a language, style guides, and “Strunk and White” are more helpful. Grammar checkers can be useful to native speaking writers yet often will lead non native writers down the wrong road toward learning bad habits.

Readability indexes? Helpful to some writers. Generally, using simpler words almost always is the better approach anyway, especially when many free/libre software users these days are non native speakers.

Do not confuse proofreading with a technical review. Let the Subject Matter Experts handle the technical reviews.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Tech Writing

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