17 Proofreading Techniques for Business Communication
Finally. Your document is just about complete. It’s been written, reviewed, compiled, and re-reviewed. With the final edits in place, it’s now ready to be proofread.
Proofreading can seem like a simple task in business communication. However, the attention to detail and intense focus it requires means that proofreading is as challenging as it is important.
However, there are many tactics you can use to ensure this task is completed well and effectively. This article highlights our top strategies.
Why is proofreading important?
Proofreading can help you improve the readability and quality of your documents. It is important to ensure that your writing is error free and professional.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading includes reviewing for grammar, correct use of language, and format. It’s the final touches needed to ensure a business document is correct, consistent, and professional.
When do I proofread?
Proofreading is often confounded with editing. Editing involves revisions of the document, often with major changes, to ensure alignment with goals, the accuracy of information, or tone modification.
Only once those major edits are complete can the document move to the proofreading stage. Proofreading ensures the final content is free of linguistic and formatting errors.
17 Proofreading Techniques
The following list presents the strategies we recommend for better proofreading.
These methods strengthen your proofreading process and knowledge.
1. Step away, then focus
Whenever possible, step away from the document before proofreading. This is crucial when you are the document’s author. You are too close to the content, making it difficult to have a clear, objective eye on the text.
We recommend taking a 24-hour break from the content before proofreading for maximum effectiveness.
2. Print a hard copy proof of your document
Many editors find it easier to proofread with a physical document. Printing the document makes it easier to read and allows you to proofread in more places.
3. Read aloud
Good proofreading is done slowly. Simply reading it normally allows your brain to fill in gaps and fix errors in your mind and skip them on the page.
Reading aloud ensures that each word and punctuation mark is verified. It also highlights awkward sentences because they will sound more awkward out loud than on the page.
Conveniently, there are online programs that will help with this task. Use your computer’s text-to-voice function to have your document read to you. Having your computer read to you will help catch typos that you may skip over as you know the original intent of the sentence.
4. Align with company style standards
Most companies have style standards for external documents. Ensure you have these guidelines close at hand while proofreading.
These guidelines may range from font choice to preferred spellings to margin size and more. These details ensure consistency across an organization.
5. Remove excess words
Business writing is concise and direct. Excess words, like adjectives or adverbs, can detract from the message. Being careful not to overstep into editing, review the text for superfluous words that do not add value to the text. In addition, accidental excess or repeat words are erroneous and can be missed prior to proofing.
6. Explain or remove jargon
Specialized terminology or acronyms should be used sparingly, if at all, in business writing. When used appropriately for the reader, they still must be explained.
Generally, the first mention of an acronym is spelled out completely, with the acronym following in parentheses. An unfamiliar technical term should be explained in the text before being referenced.
Terms that are difficult for the reader should be removed and replaced with more accessible wording.
7. Check sentence structure
A proper sentence must have a subject, a verb, and express a complete thought. Simple, right? Yet, sentence fragments and run-on sentences can sneak into an otherwise great text.
Review each sentence for proper structure and punctuation.
8. Review flow and sequencing
One pass of the document must be a high-level review. This overview checks the organization of the document to ensure it has proper flow and sequencing.
Check for formatting consistency, order, the numbering of images, tables, and appendices, and the general presentation.
9. Use software
Technology is your friend when it comes to proofreading.
Use these tools as a first scan. They will catch detectable errors. However, word choice and homonyms are often only found by the human eye.
You can check out our list of the top tools for tone, editing, and grammar (among other business writing needs!) on our blog.
10. Hire an editor or ask colleagues/friends
If you’re way, way too close to your document, proofing it yourself may not be a good idea. In this case, seek a truly objective opinion and review.
Hiring an editor to complete the proofreading phase can be a valuable investment. Alternatively, asking a friend or colleague to proof your text can provide a fresh perspective.
11. Take a course
Proofreading is a skill that is learned, honed, and improved. Like many other writing aptitudes, proofing can be developed through education. Taking a course on proofreading will help you master the process.
We offer a Proofreading Course with Grammar Review that hones the skills required to proofread effectively in a business environment.
Common proofreading mistakes
These tactics will help you catch the trickiest business communication errors.
12. Check homophones
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as not and knot. When a word sounds right, the quick reader can mistake it for being correct. Homophones are a painful but important item to check.
Including accept where except is intended can be embarrassing or even disastrous in business communication.
Ensure the word choice is the correct one.
13. Check apostrophes
Apostrophes are often placed incorrectly. Apostrophes are seldom used for plurals, but somehow they often appear as such.
While mixing up companies with company’s may not be disastrous, it is confusing and unprofessional.
14. Fact check
Employees, colleagues, and clients rely on business communications for information and decisions. Therefore, the information needs to be accurate. Whether it is the client name spelling, the sales division location, or the policy sheet, each detail must be correct.
Fact-checking these details will ensure the document is valuable and useful.
15. Verify numbers, times, and dates
Numerical information is often the most critical and the easiest to mistype.
Each number must be verified. A misplaced decimal or zero in a budget line can be a grievous error. Times should be checked, including the time zone. Dates must be correct to the day of the month and the week.
Triple checking the numbers is not an over-the-top habit.
16. Verify names
Writing a staff’s, colleague’s, or client’s name incorrectly or completely wrong is disrespectful. It can lead to confusion, but more importantly, it shows poor attention to detail to the most important people: the reader or subject of the business communication.
17. Test hyperlinks and phone numbers
Website and phone numbers are handy. However, they become very frustrating or ignored if they are incorrect.
In the proofreading process, click on each hyperlink, type in each web address, and dial each phone number included in the document to ensure they will correctly direct the reader.
These seventeen strategies will improve your proofreading skills. Carve out the time to properly review and implement each of these strategies. Your business communication will be accurate, valuable, professional, and will reflect well on you.
About the author
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.