Proof reading is a typical trainee task and a trainee with good attention to detail can be a real asset for their team. Proof reading does not just mean spotting spelling and grammatical errors, or pointing out inconsistencies. There may be elements of a document you are looking at that could confuse the reader, or inherent ambiguities that the creator had not noticed or considered. There may be numbers that do not look right (for instance, a 0 may have been missed), or quotes that were clearly incorrect or have been taken out of context.
Having an awareness of the context of the document(s) that you are proof reading can help you to spot errors that would otherwise not have been obvious. Therefore, where possible, try to get some information in advance on what the document’s creator is trying to prove/achieve.
Correct, don’t edit
When proofreading another person’s document, do not “edit” it – only correct mistakes (unless the delegating supervisor says otherwise). By “edit”, we mean changing the substance, tone or style - subjective changes.
Hard copy/soft copy
Always check whether you should make corrections on a hardcopy (printed) version of the document (i.e. by way of a hand mark-up) or on a soft copy version (i.e. using track-changes). If you make soft copy changes and your supervisor does not realise, there is always a chance that document will make its way to a partner, third party adviser or client without anyone realising you had left in (potentially incorrect) changes/comments. If you make hard copy changes and you are approaching a tight deadline, this could be problematic if your supervisor has not factored in the time it will take to subsequently type those changes into the final document. This is why it is best at the outset to clarify which approach you should take.
Do not rely solely on spell checker. A spell checker won’t necessarily pick up mistakes such as inconsistent use of defined terms, erroneous cross-references, incorrect use of words, misspelled party names etc.
Build in time
If you need to proof read a document that you have written, if possible build in time between writing and proof reading that document; you are more likely to identify mistakes if you come back to the document with fresh eyes (as you are more likely to read what is actually written, as opposed to what you intended to write).
Proof read everything
Everything you produce reflects on you as a trainee. Proof read every email you send, every memo you write, every PowerPoint you put together in the same way as you would proof read a university assignment or job application. A spelling mistake in an email to your supervisor could quite easily make its way to others in the firm (or even the client) if message chains are forwarded between people.
Supervisors may use shorthand symbols when marking up documents. Clarify what various symbols mean if you are unclear and make a note of these for future reference. For instance, in some firms the following symbols are used:
o x-ref: insert a hyperlink reference
o Stet: original text should remain (i.e. if the text was accidentally crossed out)
o //: new paragraph
o #: insert a space
o U/C or ↗: change letter to upper case
o L/C or ↘: change letter to lower case