Proofreading Tips I Wish I Knew in 1997

So I read all the hoopla on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Hollywood Star ... the typo read 'round the world. The shock! The horror! The outrage! It even made CNN homepage,

a scathing editorial

.

As much it pains me, typos happen. I know there's some poor guy chained to a keyboard who will carry that unfortunate error for life. That said, here are some tips I wish I knew way back when:

Just because it's been through the client (or other powers that be) doesn't mean the copy is clean

. People make mistakes--doublecheck names, dates, titles and everything you can.

Changes create errors

--A change at the 11th hour is no problem, right? Watch out for changes that create other errors. Text gets bumped. Paragraphs trail off. Watch for changes in line endings. That can be a dead giveaway.

It's all upstairs

--The same thing that helps you catch errors (your brain) will also make you slide right past them, especially if you've written the copy. Notice how your brain fills in missing words as you read. Use a trick I learned from my good buddy and writer Debi Sicoli: have a pencil touch every syllable and read aloud as you do it.

Spellcheck

(as a last resort, not first)--We all know it's dangerous to use spellcheck to catch errors, but spellcheck does have its place (catching errors that have somehow made it through all other stages).

Don't stand down

--In the early days of my career, I remember a feeling of satisfaction when I caught an error ... sort of a "my work is done here" feeling. In truth, it should be exactly the opposite. Errors are like termites. If you find one, chances are there are many more. Keep going!