EWW proofreading
November 1, 2017 5:59 AM   Subscribe

How do I overcome my distaste for checking my work?

Any hacks for making proofreading less annoying/repulsive? I really hate it, but obviously accuracy is important in most jobs (including mine)... HELP!!

Thank you!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Also I've heard of grammarly - are there other ways I could outsource the need to do proofreading?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 6:01 AM on November 1, 2017

What do you hate about it? Do you just find it boring? Do you hate re-reading your words?
posted by lunasol at 6:20 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Read your work out loud to your pets/a small child. If you don't have pets or small children available, you could find a figurine or toy with a face to be your captive audience.

Reward yourself. I literally started giving myself stickers for completing a set of somewhat-boring work tasks. I made a post-it for each task and put a cute sticker on it when I finished. I figure if it worked for 5-year-old me in piano lessons, it will work for adult me now.
posted by capricorn at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I used to feel a sense of dread at proofreading because it would just be a reminder that I'd find mistakes and feel not good enough. Eventually, after doing a bunch of writing workshops, I realized even the best writers (imo) make easy mistakes sometimes and that proofreading is the only way to learn, get better and polish the piece.

I agree that reading aloud is helpful, and even more fun to read to a dog or baby. It has the added (and obvious, to some) benefit of overriding the writing flow that you have in your head from writing it.
posted by ancient star at 6:49 AM on November 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I just fix things as I go. It works 90% of the time.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:03 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This may be obvious, but always set the work aside before proofreading it. It's more effective and more efficient to have fresh eyes. If you don't have time for that, trade proofreading work with a colleague instead.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:24 AM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

+1 on thinking more about why you hate proofreading. Is it tedium? Facing your mistakes?

I actually think of proofreading as part of the whole process of writing. It's incomplete without that step of making sure the document's "ready to ship."

-Practical tip: Outsource/delegate to people who are willing to do it. Caveat: Pick someone reliable.
Sorry, can't offer much more here because I usually do my own proofreading.

-Mental tip, fun and inspirational version: Have a nice metaphor. Sometimes I enjoy proofreading because I get this image that I'm honing this product until it's clean and polished. Or picture a progress bar like the ones in computer games (game-ify!).
If it's an important document, the bonus is that whatever I do to make the document better is actually helping make someone's life better. E.g., a well-written legal brief could win your client's case, a good article entertains/informs the reader, a clear form gets more customer business, etc.

-Mental tip, scary version: Think of the bad consequences of not proofreading. Embarrassing mistakes! Confusion! Bad outcomes for client!
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 7:27 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe if you pretend you’re reading your document to the Queen, or some other person of high repute who is unaccountably fascinated with the topic of your work.
posted by lakeroon at 7:43 AM on November 1, 2017

are there other ways I could outsource the need to do proofreading?

Yes: hire a proofreader. Pay actual going rates per-page or per-hour or better; do not bid low. It will be expensive if you need regular services, but as you know, it's both real and difficult work to do well consistently.

If you work in an office that regularly produces long reports or other written material, pressure your company to hire an in-house editor (anyone who is hired on as an editor will be forced to spend most of their time proofreading, but they may be paid marginally better for it than if they're hired as a proofreader.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:05 AM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Move your body to a different location. Back when I was in a regular office setting, I often would create elaborate reports with data presentation and explanatory writing and I needed it to be factual and compelling. I’d do all this at my desk. Then, when I needed to proof and was sick to death of the thing, I would print it out (important!) and make a cup of tea and find a different spot to do the proofing/editing. We had a couch and I’d take my shoes off, sometimes I’d put in earplugs and just really tuck in. I’d make sure I had a few cookies to dip in my tea if it was a real bear.

Now, I have the freedom to work however I want or outsource but I still do the physical compartmentalizing of certain tasks. When I write proposals, I like to go to a coffee shop. This gets me out of my office and procrastination mode and makes my task time-limited. I’ve also done this at the local public library.

In one noisy, open plan office I worked at, I would sometimes take research to the public library. That would freak my coworkers out, though, that they couldn’t see my butt in seat. See what you can make work for you.
posted by amanda at 8:20 AM on November 1, 2017

Make a distinction between formalia, style and content. Proofread only with an eye on one of these things at a time. Otherwise your brains start to boil which isn't good when you already have a foot in your mouth.
Everyone writes crappy language and everyone needs proofreading.
posted by Namlit at 8:32 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a freelance proofreader and editor, I should tell you to hire a proofreader.

However, if you don't want to do that, here is what I do when proofreading my own work:
1) Read it out loud, as many people have suggested. This will help you find clunky/confusing/ phrasing.
2) Pretend you're someone else reading your writing for the first time: does this sentence still make sense? Is there unnecessary jargon? Are your pronouns' antecedents clear? Are you sure?
3) Look at the squiggly red or green lines in Word. No, they're not always helpful, but you wouldn't believe the number of manuscripts I've gotten with duplicated words ("the the purpose of this study is...") or misspellings that Word had already highlighted for the author.
posted by coppermoss at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

the Queen, or some other person of high repute who is unaccountably fascinated with the topic of your work

I would suggest the opposite. Instead of a sympathetic reader, imagine a reader who is eager to humiliate you. A know-it-all, a rules-lawyer, a rival, a condescending nitpick who somehow is always right, a supervisor who publicly dresses others down. I’m sure you can conjure up your own actual or composite person. (Advanced/Realistic setting: imagine they have the power to fund or defund your project.) Now imagine that reader peeking over your shoulder while you proof, looking for excuses to pounce on your writing.

This will probably not make proofing more fun or less repulsive (unless you get satisfaction from defeating low-level bosses), but maybe it will raise the stakes & help keep you focused on it.
posted by miles per flower at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2017

Seconding the tips to step away from your work for a bit and proofread in a different space from where you wrote. When I finish a document, ideally I can pass it along to a colleague to proof (we take turns doing this with each other). If no one's available, I go for a 10-15 minute walk, clear my head, then come back and take the document into a conference room where I can close the door and focus. I read it at least twice - the normal way (top to bottom), out loud, then backwards (last sentence, second to last sentence, on up to the top). By reading it in reverse order, you'll catch things that you may have overlooked in normal flow.
posted by writermcwriterson at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2017

Print it out in a very different font, change environment where you sit, give yourself treats or some kind of comfort that's rare otherwise and work backwards.
posted by sammyo at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have the computer/smartphone read it to you - while you're walking or driving someplace.

Read the last paragraph, the 2nd last, 3rd last, etc.

"There is no great writing, only great revising."
posted by at at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2017

Spite, real or imagined: picture the person who's going to be reading your work to be the most nitpicky, petty person gleefully rubbing their hands together at the chance to point out all your mistakes. Then as you're going through your proofreading and fixing everything, picture them getting more and more frustrated, tearing their hair out at the fact that you've already taken care of all the things they were going to nitpick and then finally being forced to grudgingly admit your work is okay, they suppose. (YMMV if you are a more emotionally mature person than I am)
posted by btfreek at 3:12 PM on November 1, 2017

Think of it as a chance to admire the cleverness of your own writing. This is really good, you think to yourself. I sound so (professional, clever, funny, etc.) Oops! Here's a word I duplicated... fixed now. Hmmm, I think I can make this sentence sound clearer... done.

Ok, from the top! "This is really good"...

Then just repeat until you arrive at the peak experience of reading your document from beginning to end, basking in its brilliance and perfection.... aaahhh.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:33 PM on November 1, 2017

I actually like proofreading, and I've done a lot of it. But I'm strict about it: no style/grammar fixes; I'm only proofing against the original manuscript and fixing spelling, punctuation, and the like. Reading aloud is the 2nd best way; best way is two people, one reading and one looking at the original. I never proof anything I've written as it's too easy to see what you think ought to be there.
posted by MovableBookLady at 4:56 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

As another professional proofreader, I say hire somebody if you have the money. It's like hiring a housekeeper- you give your proofreader your filthy lived-in manuscript and at the end of the day they return to you something fresh-smelling and squeaky clean.

Alternately, I like reading line by line, starting at the last line and moving backwards. It allows you to forget about the flow and focus on the details. It almost makes your mansucript feel like a different piece.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:01 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I literally came down here to suggest what lollymccatburglar suggested: going through a document backwards is what my first boss always did and it's a great way to catch errors that your eye might just skim over if you were reading it start to finish. I still do that myself sometimes if it's something that's very important for me to get right.

Is it proofreading in general you don't like, or proofreading your own work? If it's the latter, putting it aside and picking it up later and proofing it as if it's someone else's work might help put some distance between you and your document.

If it's the former, I'd be all about finding someone else to look over your work before you send it on. Depending on your work set up and/or required level of accuracy, maybe even asking a willing coworker to give your work a quick once over to catch any obvious errors could be a solution. In most situations, accuracy is important, but most people will forgive a minor error or two if the rest of the document is in good shape.

As for making it more fun for you, I wish I had better advice, but I kind of like proofreading, so I'll just share what I like about it and maybe that'll help: It's like being able to put finishing flourishes on a fancy cake. The hard, sweaty baking part is over! Now you get to spiffy it up and make it awesome and pretty!
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:32 AM on November 2, 2017

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