PAs are often asked to carry out proofreading tasks as part of a varied portfolio of work. Whether this is for correspondence, reports, guidance or any other type of written material, another set of eyes is increasingly viewed as essential before a piece of work is sent out or otherwise published. But how should a PA go about this, when they are often torn between several different – and competing – tasks? Below you can find some top tips for successful proofreading, with the PA role specifically in mind…
Before you start anything, make sure that your line manager, your team and anyone else who needs to know about your workload are fully aware of the fact that you need to carry out a proofreading task, and that you have made time to prioritise it. Proofreading (and editing in general) are categorised as ‘deep work’, which requires a certain level of concentration – so set your work mode to ‘Do Not Disturb’!
It’s a good idea to block out the time in your calendar, so that everyone knows what you are doing, and also realises that you need some time without interruptions. This is perhaps one of the most challenging things to grapple with – for any type of role, but especially for the PA role, since there is huge scope here for last-minute surprises or competing demands on your time. It can be incredibly hard to ignore the siren call of other jobs coming in. It’s important that you feel confident to carve out the time that you need, and that your team gives you the space to do this. If you can plan enough in advance, I would recommend that you try to work from home when you have this kind of task – as it inevitably reduces the number of times you could be interrupted by colleagues (and thus distracted).
Before you start work, make sure that you are aware of any style requirements (e.g. brand guidelines) so that you are not making any changes that go against the company or organisational status quo. If you have been given a brief or some other suggestions in advance, keep these in mind as you go through the document.
Be as comfortable as possible – and in the right frame of mind – to commence your proofreading work. This is an important one! Being tired, cold or hungry can act as a distraction and prevent you from doing your best quality work; similarly, being irritated about something – perhaps from a previous task – can also affect you! Try to move into the right frame of mind by listening to music, meditating or doing something to clear your head for a few minutes before you begin.
In addition to human ones (!), make sure you turn off tech-related distractions as much as possible – and put your phone away (preferably in another room!) while you concentrate. Messages (both text and email) and other notifications are notorious concentration breakers, and it is incredibly difficult to be entirely focussed on the task at hand when you are surrounded by pings and other noises that pull you away from it. You also risk a lack of consistency in your document if your process becomes disjointed.
Another common-sense tip, but don’t rush – allow enough time to do the work to your own personal (and, hopefully, to your boss’s) satisfaction. Rushed work is rarely of high quality, and despite achieving the ‘quick turnaround’ tag, could be damaging to your reputation in the long term.
Different people proofread a document in different ways – some may go through fairly slowly and carefully on a first reading and then do a quick final check, while others prefer to do a quick read through to pick off obvious errors and then go back and double-check more slowly. Whatever your method, the process has to fit the time that you realistically have to dedicate to the task – so a pragmatic approach is most often required.
Look after your eyes! Take regular short breaks: this kind of close textual work is not sustainable over many hours at a time (although you may realistically only have a couple of hours blocked out at any one time). Even so – don’t underestimate the value of eye care.
Finally, enjoy it! Refining and perfecting text can be a thing of beauty. Proofreading and editing are skills that should not be undervalued – and are an important addition to any CV. If you can offer the skill of proofreading to your team, there is no doubt that it will be hugely appreciated by everyone.
And if all else fails…you can of course decide to engage the services of a professional proofreader! 😊
Caroline Waring is a freelance proofreader and editor, working primarily in the charity and not-for-profit sectors. She lives and works in London. She has previously worked in administration – in PA, business support and coordinator roles. You can find her – and her occasional scribblings – on LinkedIn.