You've written a draft. You've revised it one or more times to make certain that you've addressed global concerns such as a clear purpose, paragraphs that advance that purpose, and structures that keep your readers aware of and following your document's organization. You've revised the document's sentences to ensure that you've used an appropriate variety and provided suitable emphasis.
Nope, not until you've proofread. Before you send the email, submit the report, or pass the proposal on to the committee, you need to proofread. Doing so may seem unnecessary after all the revising you've undertaken, but proofreading allows you one last chance to find and correct errors, whether grammatical or typographical. It allows you to check the text's readability and alerts you to clunky-sounding words and phrases.
Errors or infelicities in a document may confuse the reader, especially when they change or obfuscate meaning. They may distract him, turning attention away from your messages. Additionally, they may lower your credibility, causing him to find you less convincing or believable.
How can you prevent such a cavalcade of horrors? Try these three proofreading tips.
Start proofreading with the last sentence of your document and work back toward the first. Beginning at the end prevents your mind from seeing what it predicts it will see. Hamper your predictive ability so that you are better able to see what actually appears on the screen or page.
Highlighting each sentence as you proofread will help you concentrate on your task. It may also help you notice blunders in punctuation and diction. Homophones, for example, those words that sound alike but have different spellings and/or meanings (such as the triple threat of there, their, they're), often slip into a text even though we know the difference among them. Apostrophes, semicolons—or their lack—also have a way of slithering into and out of a draft.
Proofread sentence-by-sentence, then, from the last one to the first for the clearest and strongest focus.
READ ALOUD OR ENABLE TEXT-TO-SPEECH
Another effective technique is reading the document aloud, again starting at its end. Read slowly, word-by-word, so that you are better able to catch omitted and wrong words. Stay alert to the punctuation you've used. Listen to the sound of your sentences and phrases; if they thud or clank or if they are difficult to read, replace them with something more harmonious or simple.
But rather than doing the reading yourself, you could enable the text-to-speech feature on Word and read along as a voice speaks your text. What's the benefit of this approach? It allows you to home in more fully on the text itself while still staying attuned to its sound.
CHECK READABILITY STATISTICS
Because you need to ensure that your document's readers can comprehend your messages as easily as possible, obtain its readability scores. Based on a 100-point scale, the Flesch Reading Ease Test measures the ease or difficulty a text poses for readers. In general, you should aim for a score of 60-70.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test determines the grade level at which a reader can understand a text. Most documents should score between 7.0 and 8.0.
If either score suggests that the text's readability does not align with the capabilities and knowledge of your intended audience, make some changes.
For a long document, you may need to proofread in stages—just as you write and revise in stages. Give this final step in composing your very best—just as you give its preceding steps. When you do, it's what your readers will get: the very best. And that's something they will understand.