Techniques to help spot typos in your translations

Typos, or lack of them, can mean the difference between a happy client and an angry client. They are, quite simply, your worst enemy. Spotting mistakes in someone else’s work is relatively easy, but spotting them in your own work can often prove quite the opposite. It makes sense then to have someone else proofread your work. However, with deadlines forever looming, employing the services of a proofreader just isn’t always practical. So what’s the best way to proofread your own work? Well, different people prefer different techniques: here’s a few favorites:

Leave it 24 hours

When you’ve just written something, your mind is usually too familiar with your prose to read it through without automatically compensating for, or glossing over, any mistakes/typos. Leaving something 24 hours may not always be possible, but when time allows, get some sleep and begin proofing the following day.

Print it out

This is a favorite for many, but it does require a printer (not great for when you’re away from the office then), and worse still, printing can be time consuming and expensive (just think of all that ink!), plus printing things out all the time isn’t exactly environmentally friendly! On the plus side, however, reading something through on paper can give your eyes an often much needed break from the screen and can sometimes make all the difference when trying to catch those pesky typos.


The word ‘proofreading’ contains the word ‘reading’, but don’t let this throw you off, because the objective isn’t to read anything per se, but rather, to catch mistakes and typos – something your ears can be just as good as your eyes at doing (if not better!). There’s a wealth of text-to-speech software available these days, some paid for and some free (and in a host of different languages) – and many operating systems even have text-to-speech software built in!

Read it in a different font

This one may not seem like something worth trying, but it really can work wonders – plus it has the advantage of being perhaps the easiest to implement of all the techniques listed here. Changing the font helps make the thing look fresh and new, thereby stopping your mind from glossing over mistakes quite so easily. Plus it also rearranges the line breaks (unless the new font has exactly the same spacing as the old font – in which case, try changing the font size as well), which can also help you spot any sneaky typos hiding near the margins.

Read it in a different word processor

Reading something in a different word processor (by moving from Word to Notepad, Pages or Open Office, for example) is a step up from just changing the font, since it changes a great many other things as well: like the spacing around the document; and even if you intentionally keep the font the same, it’ll probably look slightly different anyway.

Read it on a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop

Something that can perhaps be thought of as the modern equivalent of printing something out, reading a document on a different device, such as a tablet, can be a great way to unfamiliarize yourself with what you’ve written, plus it has the added bonus of allowing you to read something through in an armchair, in bed, or even in the garden, etc. The only problem is trying to correct a mistake once you’ve found it – since actually editing documents on things like smartphones and tablets is still not something that’s easily done…

Any wacky combination of the above that suits

The objective is clear: to catch as many typos and mistakes as possible (preferably every single one of them). Which technique you favor isn’t as important as the results, and if you find that a method that was doing the trick isn’t working for you anymore, switch it for a different one – or combine one method with another: use whatever works best for you.

Any more? What works for you?

9 responses

  1. Great article!

    It may be old school but, for me, printing things out is the best way to find those pesky typos.
    I know it’s not environmentally friendly but you can alway print two pages in one and/or use recycled or draft paper ;)

    Still, very good advice in there!

  2. Dimitris Avatar

    Excellent tips!

  3. Cool tips! I never thought of changing the font. Simple and elegant and sure to expose any marginal (haha) errors. Thanks!

  4. Alex Winkler Avatar
    Alex Winkler

    Hi, I´m a freelance technical & scientific translator (German / english to spanish)

    While proofreading, something that worked very good for me is changing the text margins
    in any text processor.

    I discovered this back in the 1980s with PW (DOS based editor) when after a long time
    struggling with something I wrote that was theoretically 100 pct correct and ready for
    delivery, I shrunk the width of (naturally, all) the text.

    My surprise was great, to the extent that made me think “who was the idiot that wrote
    At that time there were no mirrors at my workplace.

    Just give it a try, you´ll be surprised at your findings.

    Hope this helps you as it keeps on helping me, Alex

  5. I use an e-reader as a variation on the smart phone/tablet option. On mine, at least, you can highlight words and write (after a fashion) with a stylus. Changing the font and colour sometimes also has the bonus of making a document easier on the eye when reading on a screen. Word’s reading layout helps with this too as it reduces scrolling.

  6. Alexcosta Avatar

    Double check all the figures and dates reading them backwards.

  7. Do you have any particular text-to-speech recommendations?

    1. Not particularly. At the moment, I’m using the default Text to Speech functionality built into my MacBook. However, I keep meaning to try and find something a bit better… if/when I do, I’ll try and put together a post on the subject.

    2. Nicolas Palma Avatar
      Nicolas Palma

      Have you tried TextAloud?