Healthcare Writing

Colleen Shannon, Freelance Medical Writer


10 steps to proofread your medical writing

Careful proofreading is like minding your manners: it gets you noticed for the right reasons and shows consideration for your reader.

It also helps you avoid embarrassing - and possibly expensive - mistakes. Your instincts might tell you to read the piece straight through, but it's better to scan for errors first. Try this 10-step checklist to get it right every time.

1. Start with the big stuff. Check the main headline for typos. Then look at anything else where the typeface stands out, like sub-headings and captions.

2. Check the spelling on all names. People are offended when you get this wrong. Make sure titles and organisations are correct.

3. Check the bottom of every page. Is the footer correct? Are the page numbers right? Check the copyright statement, job number or any other publishing information.

4. Check numbers. This is especially important for medical writing. Compare any numbers to your approved manuscript. Sometimes it's smart to check your numbers against the original data source, too.

5. Confirm consistency. If it’s a longer piece, do the headings match the table of contents? Are the citations and figures (illustrations) numbered correctly? Are the citations laid out in a consistent style?

6. Look for the lonely ones. Do you have short lines of copy dangling at the top or bottom of the page? If you are forced to use hyphens across a line break (and here I shudder), are they landing in the correct part of the word?

7. Look up tricky words. Check drug names and medical terms. If you’re unsure about any spelling, look it up.

8. Start reading
. Now you can get stuck in and begin to read through the copy.

9. Tackle punctuation and grammar. If you find yourself tripping over an awkward bit of copy, you probably need to fix the punctuation or grammar. Revise the wording so it's easy to read and the meaning is clear.

10. Come back to it. This step is essential. Take a break from the material, walk around or work on something else for a while, and then come back to it. Read it through once more. There is always time for this, even when you are on a tight deadline. In fact, it’s especially important when you are under time pressure, because that’s when mistakes are most likely to happen.

Good proofreading smooths the way for your readers and it gives you some extra confidence in the tough business of publishing. Once it has been checked properly, your work is ready to show its best face to the world.