How do I become one of those grammar snobs?
August 16, 2011 11:08 AM   Subscribe

How do I become a proofreading ace?

I have to do a substantial amount of proofreading for work, and while I am probably as good or better than your average joe, I need to become an unstoppable-proofreading-usage-and-punctuation-AP-style-master.

I would love to take a course, so if anyone has any suggestions for proofreading/editing courses in the Washington DC area that you've either taken yourself or heard were particularly good (would have to be on weekends or after 6:00 pm) please send my way!

I'm also interested in guides, software, or websites that could help quiz me. I'd like to not only read about correct usage, but I'd like to get some actual feedback via assignments or drills.
posted by forkisbetter to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
old school journo trick, which is rather difficult to apply to long pieces:

Read the thing backwards at some point, as it gets you out of the flow of verbiage, helps you spot things that often get smoothed over when you read in the correct direction -- stuff like the wrong use of your/you're, they're/there/their, apostrophes in general ...
posted by philip-random at 11:15 AM on August 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A friend of mine took the copy-editing online course/certificate program at Media Bistro. He highly recommends it. I was thinking of taking it myself. They also have a cheaper Advanced Grammar course.
posted by ljshapiro at 11:22 AM on August 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I find I ALWAYS catch something I've mistyped when I print it out and go over it with a pencil.
posted by mdonley at 11:22 AM on August 16, 2011

not gonna lie, it was hard not to point out grammatical mistakes in your post.... and then i wanted to omit all punctuation a la christopher walken.

but i digress.

i have a nearly guru level of grammar nazi-ness and an absolute disastrous skill with connecting my brain to my hands (for typing etc) so i too, as phillip-random mentioned, highly recommend reading things backwards. I would suggest that you probably aren't proofreading for MLA compliance and instead just for glaring grammatical errors/typos/etc and if so, just breaking text into chunks like paragraphs, reading them for comprehension and them reading them backwards is an amazing tool for finding all kinds of otherwise subtle grammar flaws.

that was a run-on sentence.
posted by chasles at 11:25 AM on August 16, 2011

Have you bought the AP style guide? I expect you could get your employer to purchase it.

I've been working as an editor/proofreader/copyeditor for a few years. The one exceptionally useful tip that I don't often see is to print out the copy, then using a ruler or sheet of plain paper below the line you're reading, go down one line at a time. It helps you focus on just that line so you're not skimming or skipping ahead.

Regarding good spelling and grammar, try to read as many style guides as you can. Wikipedia has a list here. Although you are following AP style, it's interesting to read a broad range of guides to editing as each one will explain ideas differently. You never know what might click to help you understand, say, the use of speech marks better.

Last, check your spellings/hyphenations on the Oxford Dictionary website, set to US English. Is nonplussed one word, two words, or hyphenated? Travelling or traveling? etc.

I can't recommend specific books as I'm based in the UK and the styles for written English can vary tremendously.

Good luck!
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2011

Just to get you into the right mindset, I really enjoyed the book Lapsing Into a Comma by Bill Walsh. (It may be slightly dated, with the "email" vs. "e-mail" discussion—e-mail? really? Even the AP gave up on that one—but much of it is still applicable.)

Proofread slowly, on paper.

Try to avoid proofreading things you've written. A second pair of eyes is always more valuable.
posted by purpleclover at 12:33 PM on August 16, 2011

Response by poster: What I need is a means to practice what I've read in the style guide to make sure that I'm catching every error. I really need to practice with doing drills or exercises on the really nitty-gritty technical stuff, not just major errors. That's why I asked for suggestions for courses or practice drills.
posted by forkisbetter at 12:50 PM on August 16, 2011

I have the AP and Chicago Manuals of style. The AP guide is a mere shadow of the Chicago guide. The layout and structure of the Chicago makes it very easy to find things.
posted by bz at 12:57 PM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: The standard for old school high school grammar is Warriner's, now being reproduced with more "interaction" by Holt. Copies abound on amazon. There's lot of practice sentences in there.

It's probably WAY too easy for you, but I use Jane Bell Kiester's Grammar With a Giggle series (the Shakespeare one). It's got some long passages that you can correct and then check the answers afterward.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:19 PM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: As part of their Editing program, the USDA has a proofreading course. Since you're in DC, you could take it as regular class (day or evening/weekend). There's also a distance learning option.
posted by bentley at 7:00 PM on August 16, 2011

How do I become better at proof reading?
posted by j03 at 3:06 AM on August 17, 2011

Best answer: If you sign up to ELance and set yourself up as a proof reader/ copy editor there are some really nice tests and exercises to take that then grade you for prospective clients. The tests are free and interesting, and once you're done you can walk away from the account or stick around and earn some pocketmoney. Bonus.

I write and proof read documents every day that require a special eye for particular branding, phrasing, terminology etc and I fully back the print it out and read it, then read it backwards approach. If anything it's time not spent looking at your screen - your eyes will thank you.
posted by caffeinebomb at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend either joining (depending on your employment/employer) the ACES (American Copy Editors Society) organization or visiting/studying its website -- Its members are not just proofreaders but copy editors at newspapers, magazines, websites and other publications. ACES was formed primarily to address copy desk problems (and there were LOTS of problems with management at many newspapers when ACES was born). It offers valuable resources and forums where you can read about style problems, grammar, substance editing, etc.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 9:01 PM on August 19, 2011

Just saw this. I'm a litigator. I was taught to "red-pen" everything. First, print it out. You MUST do this. I take a red pen, put it on top of every word and punctuation mark and if there is an error, I circle it, and write in red pen what the correction will be. I then go back after proofing the whole document and make the corrections serially. As I make each correction, I check the red mark with a blue pen. Finally, I go over the page to ensure there is a blue mark next to every red correction.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2011

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