A Hard Lesson About Proofreading

There were, perhaps, 7,000 or 8,000 words in the publication -- a special newspaper insert about a beer, wine and spirits competition, complete with articles, attendee info and very, very long lists of winners.

It was my job to proofread it.

And I did. Well. I found a missing closing parenthesis in the tiny agate type in the winner listings. I found a wrong verb tense in the middle of an article. I found missing italics on several web addresses. (It’s this publication’s style to put them in italics. If that’s not your style, that’s okay, too.)

And after finding these couple of needles in this big, brain-numbing haystack, I was pretty proud of myself, as I usually am.  (Hey, catching typos is hard.) I put the marked-up copy back on the editor’s desk and went home for the day.

The next morning, however, I changed my tune when I walked in and my editor held up a copy of the front page. Luckily, he was laughing when he pointed to the title of the publication, which ran across the cover page in huge type: “The 2013 International Wine, Beer and Spirits Competion.”

Competion, not competition.

I learned years ago that the best way to catch these types of errors is to look at a document several different ways. There’s the up-close, magnifying-glass-in-hand scrutiny that let me catch those missing italics and parenthesis. Then there’s the take-a-step-back second look. I literally move the pages farther from my eyes, glance at the document as a whole, try to imagine I’m the reader seeing it for the first time, and look at the big picture stuff you just don’t notice when you’re holding that magnifying glass.

I look at the photos. I look at the captions. I look at the layout. And I read the headline and subhead.

That arm's-length portion of the process is usually all it takes to catch big errors. But not always. For whatever reason, I just don’t always see every error. And I like to believe it’s not just me.

The lessons here? When proofreading, there are no limits you should not go to in order to catch errors. Stand on your head if it helps. Read out loud. All future typos are, quite simply, inexcusable.

But yesterday’s typos – well, nobody’s perfect.

Tags: ,