Among the many weird Facebook groups springing up every day—“I bet this pickle can get more fans than Nickelback” is a recent gem—one grabbed this editor’s attention: “’Let’s eat Grandma!’ or, ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ Punctuation saves lives.”
As long as punctuation continues to make a difference in Grandmas’ lives everywhere, good proofreaders will be necessary. But how do Hammock editors and designers keep our proofing wits about us, especially if it’s something we’ve read, edited and commented on a hundred times? From the well-proven strategies to the unusual ones, here’s how we keep those proofing pencils sharp.
Read proofs early in the day. Editor Lena Anthony likes reading final proofs first thing in the morning. “If it’s something I’ve read before, proofing it on a new day means I’m more likely to catch something,” she says. “It also means fewer distractions—whether that’s other work, e-mails, the phone or just general office noise.”
Start small. A couple of our editors start reading photo captions, callout boxes and subheads first. We find that starting with those smaller snippets of information allows us to focus on the longer bits of text.
Concentrate on one type of error at a time. Special Projects Editor Emily McMackin encourages separate read-throughs for different types of mistakes. “Don’t proof for every type of mistake at once,” she says. “I do one proof to check for consistency of word usage, one for the publication’s style and one for spelling.”
Senior designer Lynne Boyer has developed a similar routine for proofing the graphics of a page. “My first glance is to view all the pieces of the layout within the trim of the magazine. Are section headers and rules falling where they should be within the margins? I also look at the type, keeping an eye out for any strange spacing that I might be able to improve or if there is any overset on the text. Then I look at the images to make sure they are positioned in the picture box correctly and that bleeds are accurate. I also give the images a good look to see if there is any strange color or retouch that needs to happen. Folios and baselines are the last thing I review.”
Read out loud. Our editors often proof shorter pieces on our computer screens, but for anything longer than a couple of pages, we print and read it out loud.
“I read long or convoluted sentences out loud (or at least softly to myself) to see if they make sense,” Editor Bill Hudgins says. “A lot of times they can benefit from being revised into two or sometimes even three sentences.”
Block out distractions. If Digital Media Manager Megan Morris has trouble concentrating on something she’s proofing, she puts in her earbuds—without the music. “It helps cancel out office noise, and there’s something about the slight pressure in my ears that keeps me from falling asleep when reading more complex stories,” she says. “I also turn my computer screen to black so I don’t see the glimmer of a new e-mail out of the corner of my eye.”
One distraction all Hammock editors avoid: Music. Tunes are OK for run-of-the-mill, habitual tasks, but not for when concentration is essential.
Change the scenery. Emily likes to proof somewhere other than her office. “The back deck at my house works well,” she says. ‘The quiet atmosphere with a cool breeze and nothing but the sound of chirping birds helps me to focus on the task at hand.”
On beautiful days, some editors sit outside with a stack of proofs, while others walk down to Portland Brew, a nearby coffee shop.
Chew on this. “A little snack always helps keep me awake when proofing or doing other mundane jobs,” says freelance writer Nancy Mann Jackson.
While I need a steady stream of caffeine to wake up the ole brain when proofing, Emily relies on chocolate. “M&Ms, in particular, really help!” she says.