Are you falling foul of the the top 5 proofreading mistakes?  Don't worry, we've got some top tips for staying on the right side of the grammar police!Did you spot our deliberate mistake there?  If you didn't notice our repetitive 'the' don't worry - you're not alone.  We've all experienced that moment when you've hit 'send' or 'print' only to spot a proofreading error.  In fact, it's notoriously difficult to spot certain errors - especially in our own writing.

Our brains aren't wired to proofread!

The human brain is designed to filter information quickly to get to the important bits.  We quickly notice danger, availability of food, or a mate, but not necessarily whether we've used the same font in an essay!

Spot the gorilla

So, when it comes to proofreading, stop working on instinct.  If you haven't seen the Invisible Gorilla Test, take a look now -  Train yourself to look for gorillas.

Top 5 Proofreading Pitfalls

Here are our top 5 proofreading gorillas to watch out for:

1. Homophones

Those words that have the same sound but different meanings. They happen because we type quickly and as they don't look wrong, our brain just passes over them. Unfortunately, spelling and grammar checkers won’t spot these. Your on you’re own here.

10 commonly misplaced homophones:

  • Anti/ante
  • Compliment/complement
  • Fair/fare
  • Hear/here
  • Hole/whole
  • Right/write
  • Stationery/stationary
  • There/their/they’re
  • To/too/two
  • You’re/your

2. Inconsistency

There are so many potential inconsistencies, its hardly surprising we miss a few. We don’t spot them because individually they’re not wrong. It’s only when they occur again later in the document in a different form that our writiing looks sloppy.

Here are some classic inconsistencies to look out for:

  • Dates – 4 July 2016, July 4 2016, 4th July 2016, July 4th 2016
  • Compound words – proof-reading, proofreading, proof reading
  • American and British English – colour/color, programme/program, licence/license
  • Headings – Title Case, Sentence case, UPPERCASE
  • Layout – one or two space after full stops, hyphens (-) used instead of dashes (–)

3. Misplaced Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used to show possession (belonging to something) and contraction (missing letters) but although it sounds simple, it's so easy to get confused.

Common apostrophe errors:

Whose to blame? ❌  Who’s to blame?  ✔️

Childrens’ clothes are usually cheaper than adults clothes. ❌  Children’s clothes are usually cheaper than adults’ clothes.✔️

I’m selling my old DVD’s. ❌  I’m selling my old DVDs.✔️

We’re going to Paul’s and Joe’s party. ❌  We’re going to Paul and Joe’s party. (when Paul and Joe share a party)✔️

4. Poor syntax

Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences.  Sometimes we miss a key word, others we get all the words in, just in the wrong order.  These mistakes are hard to spot because even though the sentence isn't constructed properly, it can still make sense. 


Poor: She served sandwiches to guests on paper plates.
Better: She served sandwiches on paper plates to guests.

Poor: After eating my lunch, the waiter seemed keen to talk.
Better: After I’d eaten my lunch, the waiter seemed keen to talk.

Poor: For sale: bed for cat shaped like a dustbin
Better: For sale: dustbin shaped cat bed (or ‘dustbin shaped bed for a cat’)

Business person sitting at desk with editorial and letters concept

5. Double or missing words

Double words aren’t a problem if you’re using Word with the the Spelling & Grammar Checker running as you write, or if you run a check the end. (Why would you NOT run a check?)

But if you’re not using the checker, or you’re reading a print out, watch out for double or mis-placed words, like our double 'the' in the opening sentence.

What proofreading errors are you guilty of making?  What are your biggest bugbears?  Do let us know.


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