Proofreading isn’t for everyone. Many people despise it. Most even skip this step in writing. Not me. Well, not now. If you could go back and visit me in junior and senior high, you’d find a very different version of me. I was lucky to finish my assignments on time. There was no time for proofreading! Former high school or university classmates wouldn’t recognize me for the punctual, organized, hard-working fellow I am now.

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself proofreading everything. As I mentioned, I wasn’t always like this. I can’t pinpoint exactly when things changed, but I suspect it’s down to two factors. The first, and most obvious one, is my profession. Until recently, I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL)—something I did for over 25 years. Proofreading was part of my job. I analyzed the work my students produced to look for errors. And not only in writing classes.

The guy behind DC CopyPro—correcting English errors since 1995 

Even in conversation classes, I was proofreading—auditorily. I was listening for errors in my students’ speaking to help correct and improve their grammar. In presentation classes, students would submit copies of their speeches for correction. In writing classes, I would check to see if students had used the grammatical structure we’d been studying. I also checked to see if they were following good writing habits in general. For the most part, they were not. 

A picture of a laptop with a document open, representing how students submit homework via Google Docs and how the teacher would comment

Starting about 10 years ago, I had my students submit writing homework via Google Docs or Forms. I could then comment on their work and suggest improvements. It saved on paper, eliminated the “I forgot my assignment” problem, and saved me from carrying around a stack of assignments.

As part of writing class, I would teach my students about the key steps in the writing process. I would teach them about the importance of brainstorming. Most of them ignored that step. I stressed the importance of proofreading. I explained that the more of their own mistakes they could catch, the more it would benefit them. They’d get higher scores on their assignments and exams. Most of them were horrible proofreaders—if they bothered to proofread at all. What was it I said about myself as a student a few paragraphs earlier? 😉

Sentences start with capitals and end with periods—is that so hard?

I taught my students the basics of writing. Every sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark. These errors were still prevalent. I ended up making these corrections so often, I started using a text expander to save me time. I no longer had to type, “Every sentence has to start with a capital letter,” on 45 out of 80 weekly writing assignments. I could type a personalized shortcut like ‘capfirst’ (capitalize the first word). The entire phrase would then appear auto-magically. It was a time-saver for me, and the students got the feedback they needed—though most of them ignored it.

I’ve also worked on the side as a subtitle proofreader. A translator would translate a movie or TV show from Korean to English. I would then proofread and edit the English subtitles. I corrected grammar mistakes and typos but also ensured that the subtitles flowed.

A close-up picture of a bald eagle, introducing the idea that I'm an eagle-eyed English proofreader

Twenty-five years of looking for mistakes has turned me into an eagle-eyed proofreader. Proofreading is most definitely a skill that you can train. I’ve been improving that skill for 25 years. 

It’s as hard to pinpoint the timing of the other factor—the fact that I’ve become very organized and meticulous. Any former classmates reading this post have double-checked whose blog they’re reading. But it’s true. Once a master procrastinator (I wrote seven 1,000-word history papers in a single weekend in high school), I now prepare lessons weeks in advance. I am early for every meeting or appointment. Everything goes into my calendar or on my to-do list. It’s who I am now.

An image of sign with a right pointing arrow containing the words old way and a left pointing arrow with the words new way, indicating I now notice errors in English all the time.

I’ve changed—I notice mistakes EVERYWHERE now!

I don’t know when ‘the change’ happened, but it did—and now I’m stuck with it. I’m at a point now that I can’t turn it off. I proofread everything. When my wife watches Korean dramas, I discover errors in the English subtitles. Never mind emails, I proofread text messages before I send them. 

Yesterday, I realized I had a typo in a chat message. I deleted it, retyped it, and sent it again. Of course, there are times those mistakes slip through. I’m not perfect. BTW, eff you autocorrect! You do more harm than good. But I try my best to catch every mistake I can.

So what makes me so good as a proofreader?

The simple answer? I’m a perfectionist

Not in everything I do, but I generally believe if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I’ve used PowerPoint presentations in my classes for years. Like everyone, there was never enough time in the day, and the odd mistake or typo slipped through. Whenever I found one of those mistakes while teaching, first I’d apologize to my students. Then I’d make the correction immediately. That way I knew I was giving my students accurate information. I also wouldn’t forget to correct the mistake later.

A vector image of mind map with the word idea in the center and steps 1 through 5 surrounding it, indicating I'm a very systematic English proofreader
Infographic vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

I’m systematic

Practically everything I do has a system. I find ways to organize and systemize things. It drives my wife crazy—she’s much more spontaneous than I am. I use this trait when proofreading a document. This allows me to systematically go through the document, checking for different types of errors with each pass. Following the same approach minimizes the chances I’ll miss any mistakes.

My life is pretty systematic. I practice guitar every day. I have a practice plan that I always follow. I record my progress. Being systematic has seen me lead many groups I’ve been a part of. I managed my soccer team not because I was the best player or the most knowledgeable. I helped run a large cycling group, not because I was the most experienced or the fastest cyclist. Helping to run these groups came about naturally because of my organizational abilities. 

I have great attention to detail

I notice when there’s an extra space between sentences. I notice when font sizes change. I notice when fonts change. These things appear off to me. But this is not true for everything. I make mistakes with my music theory homework all the time. I check my homework before sending it to my teacher. But almost every week, there’s at least one error he points out. My mistakes jump off the page at him the same way mistakes in a document jump off the page at me.

A woman sitting in front of a laptop. She is touching her first finger to her thumbs in a Zen meditation pose. Use the introduce the idea that I'm a patient English proofreader
Woman photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com

I’m patient

You can’t be a teacher if you don’t have patience—well, not for long anyway! Proofreading takes time. You have to go over the same text again and again—and again. You look for different things each time. Sometimes correcting one mistake will help you spot another during a later reading. When proofreading a long document, you have to have the patience to be rigorous to the end. You can’t slack off near the end because you’re tired and fed up. Knowing when to take a quick break can be key.

I understand English grammar and can explain it

I’m no grammarian. Don’t ask me to diagram a sentence. As a student, I can only remember 1 week of actual grammar study in elementary school. But when I submitted assignments and essays, my grammar was quite good. Not because I knew the rules and how to apply them. I knew what sounded right, likely because I read a lot as a child. That’s how most of us know grammar. But if you’re going to teach English for a living, that’s not enough. 

Students ask why ‘I’m meeting Susan for dinner at 7 pm’ is an acceptable way to talk about the future when it’s clearly the present continuous tense. Shrugging your shoulders and answering, “That’s the way it is,” is not helpful. You need to be able to explain the rules so they can understand and follow them.

To be completely frank, when I started teaching EFL in the mid-’90s, I wouldn’t have been able to identify a noun or a verb in a sentence. But through teaching, prepping lessons, and self-study, I educated myself. And if something sounds off and I can’t explain it, I research it.

I used to correct students for saying ‘at the weekend’ instead of ‘on the weekend.’ I don’t anymore. Why? Research taught me ‘at the weekend’ is used in British English. Now I inform students of the different uses. Both uses are correct. Uninformed, arrogant EFL teachers correct what sounds wrong based on instinct, not knowledge.

A close-up profile of a man looking left, with a very intense gaze on his face, to introduce the idea I am a very focused English proofreader

I have focus 

I can concentrate on the task at hand. I sometimes lose track of time while proofreading. The goal of proofreading is not to gain knowledge. You’ll likely absorb the content, and if you’re also editing, you may need to make sure that what’s written is logical. But proofreading focuses on looking for spelling mistakes, errors in punctuation, and typos. You’re checking to make sure the sentence is grammatically sound and that it makes sense. Considering each sentence on its own, sentence after sentence, takes focus.

I see proofreading as an intriguing challenge

I enjoy uncovering difficult to spot mistakes. A few months ago, I spotted a mistake in an article about the importance of proofreading. I wasn’t proofreading the article. I was reading about copywriting and proofreading and stumbled on it. The article had been published four years ago, but no one had pointed out the mistake to the author. I commented on the error, was thanked for pointing it out, and the correction was made.

I live in fear (not literally) of people finding a mistake on my webpage or in one of my blogs. It is notoriously difficult to proofread your own work. That’s why authors often use editors and proofreaders. I don’t have that luxury, so I’ll have to pay special attention to proofreading my own writing for now. 

I’m meticulous

I don’t have OCD, but I prefer things to be a certain way. For example, I will often arrange the bills in my wallet. I arrange them so they all face the same way and are arranged from large to small bills. I don’t obsessively do this. It doesn’t drive me crazy if they aren’t arranged like this. But I appreciate it when they are. This helps me ensure consistency when proofreading. 

A vector image of document with a pencil and magnifying glass to indicate I'm a meticulous English proofreader

I was proofreading a document earlier this week. I noticed the author used a certain two-word term throughout the text. Sometimes it was hyphenated but other times it wasn’t. I double-checked the hyphenation rules for that term. I ensured that the term was written consistently throughout the entire document.

Think you have what it takes to be a good proofreader?

Do a Google search for the characteristics or personality traits of a good proofreader. You’ll find articles that mention several of the traits I’ve written about. I didn’t make a list of those personality traits and shoehorn myself into them. I wrote about who I am. I can’t fully explain why I’m good at proofreading. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t always like this. But I am now, and I am confident that I am very well-suited to being a proofreader.

In closing, how many of you paid attention to the title of this blog post? Did you actually count the traits I listed? They weren’t numbered on purpose—and there aren’t ten of them. 😉 Did you wonder if kick-ass needed to be hyphenated? I did. I checked. Used as an adjective before the noun (kick-ass proofreader) it’s hyphenated. Otherwise, it’s written without a hyphen. It’s that kind of attention to detail that allows me, as a proofreader, to kick ass.

Make sure your copy is free of errors and typos and improve your brand image. Contact me for help with English proofreading.

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