Proofreading Your Work

Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately.  I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.

A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents.  You can’t afford not to.  Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.

Spell Check

This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on.  It underlines misspellings in red.

If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything.  You then have the option to correct.  Make sure you’re picking the right word!

Spell Check is a first line of defense.  The feature won’t catch everything.  If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok.  The last one is a real word.

A typo I make frequently is form instead of from.  I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.

When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis.  It helps to make a list and keep it handy.  You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.

Look at it in hard copy

Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting.  As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.

The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen.  It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page.  E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.

I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better.  I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself.  If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes.  Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.

Have someone else look at it

This is especially good for novels.   Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore.  You know it too well.  It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.

Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.

Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too.  I saw this sign at the grocery store today:

Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.


Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc.  are correct.

Google it

Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling?  When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing.  That’s pretty damn good.

Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong.  Try Chrome’s Google page.  If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff.  Your laptop will probably have a mike.   Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.

Look it up in the dictionary

 Most references are online now, at pages like,, and more.  However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college.  You may still have it.  Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.

Use the library

 If you can’t find something online, you can try the library.   There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject.  University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.

Haven’t been in the library since grade school?  Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid?  Never fear, little boomer.  The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.

Check and recheck your work.  You’ll be glad you made it a habit.  It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.

7 Habits of Highly Destructive People

No matter what you do for a living, you’ll come across people who seem to think it’s their job to make yours harder.   Whether you spend your days in a warehouse, an office, a kitchen or at home freelancing, they’re out there, waiting to drive you to fits of singing the “Day-O!” song as you count the minutes until you are done for the day.

Inspired by the famous self-help book by Stephen Covey (which I’ve never read, actually), here are seven things people do that are detrimental to your work ethic.

1—Being reactive

Proactive folks will seek out ways to do things in a timely manner.  Reactive ones are oblivious until stress forces them to act.  If you’ve asked them sixty times to order supplies and end up with nothing at deadline time, it’s hard not to rip their heads off.

What You Can Do:

Document, document, document.  Email them your requisitions, and keep a copy of their replies.  Then you’ll have time-and-date-stamped proof that you didn’t drop the ball.

2—Not seeing the big picture

Sometimes  people will focus so hard on the details that they lose sight of the overall goal.  Let’s say you’re part of a sales team that has to send out a literature packet to 100 people.  You know what supplies you need, and you’re ready to go.   Then your boss tells you, “I revamped the whole thing, and I told them you’d ship in three days!”


Before you strangle him, remember I can’t afford to bail you out.

When this happened to me, there was nothing I could do.  My then-boss ended up grabbing other people off their jobs to help.  I don’t think he understood what he did.  I almost wished I had missed the deadline, just so I could point out how unrealistic that was.

What You Can Do:

If your boss is like this, the best strategy is prevention.  Plan for additions to your project, because anything that ends up in committee will bloat faster than a walrus with the bends.  Give him status reports with lots of detail, including projections of completion time.  Bosses love that.


Writers do this to themselves.  It’s easier not to do the boring article or edits.  “My TV show is on, I have to run to the bank, my back hurts from sitting all day.”  Coworkers who delay sending you documents and answers can make you want to rip your hair out and set it on fire.

What You Can Do:

Bug them until they give you what you want.  Do it politely, even sweetly and they’ll eventually cave.  There’s a Spongebob episode where Squidward tries to take the day off under the guise of running errands and drives himself crazy imagining Spongebob’s continuous “Did you finish those errands?”  Set up your coworkers’ minds the same way and they will conform to your every whim.


4—Being selfish

It’s not all about you, buddy.  Taking credit for other people’s work, never helping them with projects, and always stealing the best red pens out of the supply closet don’t make you cool.  That only makes you an asshole.

What You Can Do:

You need to thwart this person before he can undermine you.  Slip the office wretch a buck or two to save some red pens back for you.  Speak up when Selfish McSelferson steals your proposal:  “Excuse me, but I believe you forgot to mention we both worked on that ‘Bring Back Firefly’ presentation.”

5—Not listening to a damn thing anyone says

Anyone with a boss who says they have an open door policy knows what this means.  They saaaay you can bring them any concerns, but when decision time rolls around, workers’ input is nowhere to be found.

To be fair, a lot of employees just use this to bitch.  And surely you’ve dealt with a teammate either at work or recreation that won’t listen to anything anyone tells them, to the detriment of all.

What You Can Do:

Well, it would be nice if you could tie the person to a chair and beat them unmercifully with a keyboard, but you can’t.  Treat them like the children they are.  When you must tell them something, make sure you have them repeat it back to you.  And like #1, document everything.  When they whine “But I didn’t heeeeeaaarr youuuuu!” point to your email / memo / skywriting.

La la la la!

6—Trying to do it all alone

Whether they’re trying to impress the boss or afraid to ask for help, people who try to do it all will invariably fail.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed at crunch time.

What You Can Do:

If you’re snowed under, delegate.  The next time someone asks if you need something, say “Yes, please, would you kindly take this pile of finished clown permits over to Bobo? Thank you.”  Ask others if you can help them.  They’ll remember, I promise.

7—Coming to work sick

The seventh habit Mr. Covey mentions is balancing and renewing your health and rejuvenating yourself.   People who come to work when they’re sick are useless Typhoid Marys.

What You Can Do:

If you possibly can, stay home.  There’s no balance there; if you don’t give yourself time to heal, you’ll just get worse.  Not to mention your flu is the gift that keeps on giving.  See this Mythbusters results page, third item down, if you need any more proof.

Stuck being around a sick coworker?  Wash your hands frequently, use alcohol-based sanitizers (NOT antibacterial Triclosan–that junk makes superbugs) and don’t touch your face!

No, Your Majesty, the gloves don't help.

Don’t know anyone like this at work? Then it might be you.  We spend so many hours on the job and most of us don’t want to be there.  Use that time to be constructive, not destructive.