Saturday, 12 February 2011

Proofreading, editing, spellchecking

I was inspired by a post from one of our MA students about editing and proofreading to put a few ideas together about checking work. There is lots of good advice out there on the net (see e.g. Philippa Hammond's blog here, Proz here or Dailywritingtips here). Catherine Hibbard has a very good post where she identifies common problems including the spelling of proper names, errors in numbers and dates, inconsistent or incorrect capitalisation, omissions of words, repeated words, incorrect punctuation, misspellings and non-agreement of subject and verb.
So how to avoid these? Some hints and tips:
  • Print out your work if you have time, and mark it up in red or coloured ink before entering the corrections on screen.
  • Read in a different font or a different size  to 'refresh' your view of the text. 
  • Read the text out loud. This blogger recommends getting text-to-speech software to do it for you. 
  • Many people recommend reading backwards for manual spellchecking.
  • Get someone else to read your work, or buddy up with a colleague to proofread each other's work. 
  • I don't use the 'show/hide formatting symbols' tool in Word but some people do. It may pick up formatting slips like extra spaces.
  • I always run a spellcheck before the final proofread. It's a useful way of checking the consistency of spelling of proper names. Add the correct version to the dictionary as you go along and then misspelled versions will show up on the spellchecker. 
  • Don't just proofread your submitted work: proofread your correspondence too, including emails.
  • Check with great care for accents. 
  • Check with great care for apostrophes when writing in English. Misused apostrophes are disproportionately irritating for your reader: 
    Even the best speller has an off day. I would always recommend running a spellcheck, if only because a  'definately' or a 'seperate' or similar 'aaagh!' typo makes it look (a) as though you can't spell and (b) as though you didn't care enough about your client/reader/end user to run a quick spellcheck.


    be aware that a spellcheck won't pick up misspelled words which are also real words, e.g. form/from, where/were, quiet/quite. It won't pick up misused homophones like
    • principal/principle
    • discreet/discrete (discretion is important, and it means being discreet)
    • affect/effect
    • complement/compliment (the decor of the restaurant compliments the food. Does it really?)
    • counsel/council
    • hoard/horde
    • peak/peek/pique
    • precede/proceed
    • forward/foreword
    • than/then, 
    • two/too/to, 
    • loose/lose (how has this become such a common error??)
    See here for a useful list with definitions.

    Spellcheckers find it difficult when you have words from more than one language in a text. They may not pick up on misspellings in the other languages, or worse, your spellchecker might be sabotaging your work by correcting words that you don't want it to (e.g. cognate words which are similarly spelled or words which are differently capitalised in different languages). Always proofread 'manually' after running a spellcheck.

    English spelling is full of traps. You might like to check your familiarity with some spelling bugbears with a handy quiz or three - try the Oatmeal Twitter quiz, this quiz or this quiz which has a few tricky questions about American vs. British spelling.Those of you feeling bumptious about your spelling might like to try the ultimate Oxford dictionaries spelling bee (you'll need audio enabled).

    EDIT: 12 February 2012, removed defunct BBC and Guardian quiz links and added the OED.

    No comments: