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Sharpen your proofreading skills with a short test

06 January 2012


Proofreading is all about quality control, making sure that an article is accurate and consistent. Often, it will involve picking up factual errors (such as names that have been spelled incorrectly) and layout problems, but the focus is usually on grammar and consistency of style. The art of proofreading interests me greatly. I have written an interview with the Guardian's style guide editors and created a proofreading exercise, and have some more ideas for content I can share on this subject.

I've also spent a lot of time on quality control in agencies and publishing houses I've worked with, and one of the key things I've noticed is that you can get better at proofreading. It's tempting to think you've either got an eye for it or you haven't, but I've seen people improve markedly by practising it and focusing their attention on getting their copy right. That's why I encourage writers to work on their proofreading skills. You can do it almost anywhere: simply pick up a newspaper and see if you can spot the errors the subs missed.

WM Group, which runs training courses on writing among other things, has put a short proofreading test online. In some ways it's easier than my test: it's shorter, and there are fewer errors in it. But in other ways it's harder, because the errors are quite subtle and easy to miss. The company says that only 31% of people who sent in a response were able to get full marks. People often queried accurate punctuation but missed some significant mistakes which made them cringe when they were told the answers afterwards. I've seen the results breakdown for 49 people who tried the test. I don't want to give the game away, but one mistake was only picked up by three people, even though there's a heavy hint in the article itself. WM Group has revealed that there are eight errors, but the two top scorers only found five of them. Can you do better? You can try the test here.

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I think I got all 8 - I certainly wouldn't have done if I'd not been told how many to look for.
 
... although I don't know which one is subject to the "heavy hint", so I might not be 100% right.
 
Yes, the tricky thing is finding the right eight errors. Feel free to email me your answers and I'll tell you how you did.

The one that's subject to a heavy hint is a style/consistency issue and it's the one that very few people got. Maybe calling it a heavy hint is overdoing it a bit, but you could argue that there are two reasons why it's wrong.
 
Ooh, I just spotted another one. Sneaky.

That means I got nine :P
 
Haha! That's the tricky thing. There really are only eight that are mistakes.

Thanks for sending me your answers. You got 6 out of 8 (full details on email), which is better than anyone whose results were shared with me by WM Group.

Anyone else want to have a crack at it?
 
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