Essential skill: How to proofread like a professional editor

Writing an error-free resume is critical to getting hired. And once you get the job, good writing skills can help you build your professional brand and advance faster. It’s simply one of the most important skills you can have for career success.

I studied professional writing in university and have been a writer and editor for numerous publications in the years since. Here are five sure-fire techniques professional editors use for producing error-free documents.

Take a break between writing and proofing a document. It’s nearly impossible to proofread something you have just written. Even if you are a grammar and spelling expert, when you are too close to the text, your eyes can play tricks on you. You will often read what you meant to say, whether or not you actually got it right on the page. It’s also difficult to evaluate how good something sounds when you’ve just written it. You may hear the idea in your head, not the written word.

Once you’ve written a draft, step away from it and do something completely unrelated before attempting to proofread it. Better yet, if you have the time, proofread it the next day. With fresh eyes, you’ll be able to more clearly and accurately evaluate what you’ve written.

Read your document backwards. This technique won’t help with the flow of your prose, but it will allow you to catch spelling mistakes and misused words. Because you don’t get the context of the text, you are forced to read each word individually – without mentally filling in the blanks. This is especially useful if you don’t have the luxury of time to walk away and come back fresh. Read the last sentence first and work your way backwards through the document.

Print a copy. Proofread a paper version of your text, making corrections with a pen. Our eyes are more likely to miss errors on screen than on paper. Typos and spelling mistakes will stand out more on the printed document than in your digital version.

Read it out loud. Reading your text aloud forces you to pronounce every sentence or phrase in the way that you would actually say them to another person. This way your mouth and ears, as well as your eyes, are proofreading your document. Does the text flow logically when you try to say it or does the wording sound awkward? You’ll catch more awkward phrasings and dropped words reading aloud than you will just scanning a document in your head.

Read it to somebody else. This won’t always be practical in a professional setting, but it can certainly be a powerful technique for writing a stronger resume. Read it to another person. Does what you’re saying sound convincing? Is it worded the way you would naturally communicate it to someone? Does it flow?

Reading to someone else is a great way to evaluate the fluidity of your text and to avoid the unnatural, stilted language people sometimes use in their writing. You’ll hear it clearly when trying to say it to a real person. Plus, you will get to have a second opinion of your content.

Just about every piece of resume advice ever written will remind you to proofread it carefully. Spelling and grammatical errors in your job application are an almost certain way to sink your candidacy. Use these techniques to get it right every time.

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