A foolproof guide for reading accurately on screen

Whenever I am asked 'How do you proofread pages on screen', my answer is always: 'Don't!'

We've all done it – we check a page on screen and think it's perfect – but then spot half a dozen errors as soon as it comes out of the printer.

Why? Mainly because screen resolution is around 25 to 30 per cent less than a printed page, which makes it harder to see things in detail.

Your brain also works in a different way when you are looking at a screen. You do not concentrate so well – have you ever 'read' a story through from start to finish – and then realise you didn't actually digest any of it?

There's also something about holding a pen that makes your mind focus better. And screens are sometimes affected by light and shadows, and it's hard to remember where you got up to if you are interrupted.

But the problem is that proofreading on screen is likely to become the norm in years to come.

Why? First, because as the eco-lobby gets stronger there will be more pressure to avoid printing anything – I am already noticing 'don't print it'posters in the newspaper offices I visit.

And second, with technology allowing more people to work remotely, we won't always have access to a printer. It's happening already – reporters upload copy straight to the web from their laptops.

So it's important we get good at proofreading on screen, so we are as accurate as reading hard copy. Here are some tips:

•Avoid reading your own pages. This is risky on paper – but even more so on screen.

•Try to do a non-screen activity first – make a cup of tea or do some filing.

•Save a copy of the page before reading it. This safeguards you in case you make changes that have to be undone. If you're just reading one story, then similarly, save a copy first.

•Use the spell check/grammar check first. This will give you a head-start. But don't trust it to find everything.

•Magnify the text – you'll never spot errors in 9pt on screen – so magnify the page to 200 per cent, or whatever size suits you.

•If you are reading a whole page, train yourself to read things in a set order – for example, main story first; photo caption next; second largest story next; then fillers. This ensures you don't miss anything.

•Check the articles and photos first – then check the 'peripherals'– things like page numbers, the dateline, signposts to other pages.

•Read a line at a time. A good way to do this is to turn the text white, then highlight the line you are reading. That way, you will only see that line and nothing else. If the text is in colour, change it to a contrasting colour. But remember to change it back again when you've finished.

•Pay particular attention to ends of sentences that run on to the next line.

•Whisper the text out loud – just like you did at infants' school. Reading aloud will help you to hear the difference between what is there and what you think is there.

•Break your proofreading into areas. First check for spelling mistakes and grammar, then for punctuation and house style and so on.

•Don't read for more than 20 minutes at a time. Your concentration will wane.

•Share the workload. There's no way one person can proofread on screen all day without losing focus.

And if there are any errors in this article – don't blame me, blame the proofreader.

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