- Read headlines and subheads. You'll be surprised at how many mistakes you might find there. I once sent out an $11K print job with a headline that had the word "Suprise" in it--in bright teal type. Of course, I meant "Surprise."
- Watch for word substitutions. For example, look out for their if you mean they're, then if you mean than, or who's if you mean whose.
- Root out wrong word choices, such as laying for lying, insure for ensure, or compliment for complement. All of these are commonly misused.
- Check your punctuation, particularly apostrophes and plurals. It's men's room, not mens' room. It's children's clothing, not childrens'. Be careful when it comes to the word it's. It's means it is or it has (It's my party, or It's been a long time ...); its means belonging to it (Its special features include ...). There is no such word as its'. Don't even think about it.
- Use your dictionary to make sure your spelling is correct. Just today, I received an e-mail with a great example of this simple rule. A restaurant posted a sign saying it was closed because the kitchen was out of meet. Oh, come on.
To get it right, you have to proofread several times. Different proofreaders have different styles, but some read once for headlines, subheads, and pull quotes only; once for street addresses, phone numbers, e-mail and web addresses, and other factual data; once more for numbers, figures, and page numbers; again for missing or repeated words or letters, and spacing errors; again for spelling; and finally for sense. Although that may seem like far too much work, proofreading goes quickly when you read for one thing at a time rather than trying to catch every kind of error during a more global look-see.
Paying attention will make your writing more polished and professional.