A rousing cheer for careful proofreading

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2011 - 2:24 PM

My daughter was visiting home, sitting with me on our back porch, when she looked up from her laptop.

"Hey, Dad, I think it's time for another column on proofreading," she said. "Check out this message from my doggie day care."

Here's what she showed me: "When dogs are placed in group situations, they are often exposed to the orgasms that cause kennel cough."

I found the sentence so amusing I quoted it in my July 4 column. So that's my topic today -- not orgasms, nor organisms, but proofreading. But before I get on my soapbox and chastise you for not taking sufficient care with your own proofreading, I'd like to make a confession: I myself do not produce perfect copy.

It's true. Before you write in protest and lamentation, hear me out. Despite my keen eye and meticulous nature, I do, on rare occasion, let a proofreading error slip by. In fact, in that very July 4 column, I mixed up my explanation of aspirated and non-aspirated h's. Here is the offending passage:

"English has two main articles, the indefinite a and the definite the. An is a variation of a. A pronunciation aid that enables you to run your words together more easily, an is used before vowel sounds -- not vowels necessarily, but vowel sounds, as in an evening and an MBA. Its use before h depends on whether the h is aspirate or pronounced: an hour if the h is pronounced, and a historical person or a historical event if the h is not pronounced. An historical event is a common error even among educated writers and speakers."

What I should have written, as a number of readers subsequently pointed out to me, was "an hour if the h is not pronounced, and a historical person or a historical event if the h is pronounced." So rather than shed light on the question, I created confusion. I apologize.

My penitence is to offer the following advice on proofreading, both for my sake and yours:

1. Begin not by reading but by checking for inconsistencies in headings, fonts and justification.

2. Read out loud, fixating or resting your eyes on one word at a time.

3. Concentrate on one line of text at a time, using a sheet of paper or a card to cover the lines that follow.

4. When you find an error, reread the entire sentence in which the error occurred.

5. Watch for common errors (such as it's for its and missing quotation marks and parentheses.

7. Check for common word-processing errors such as repeated, missing, repeated and misplaced text.

8. Have someone else proofread your text.

Now, as you were reading my advice on proofreading, did you spot three proofreading errors? If not, take another look.

A closed parenthesis is missing in point 5 (the parenthesis should go before, not after, the period), and the word repeated is repeated in point 7.

Oh, and you might want to look again at point 6.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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