The proof of the matter

Proofreading. I have to admit, it’s not much fun. Going over and over what you’ve written, looking for mistakes … Especially if you’ve been working on it for so long you can’t see the wood for the trees, or if you’re seriously pressed for time.

But that doesn’t mean you can skip it. It’s a vital part of the copywriting process and skimming over the final edit may undo all the hard work you’ve put into creating your masterpiece if you end up publishing something with glaring errors.

You might wonder why it’s such a big deal to offend someone’s sensibilities by missing a punctuation mark, but proofreading is about far more than a stray apostrophe.

Here are 12 tips to power up your proofreading.
proofreading tips

1.     Bottoms up

To check spelling, punctuation and grammar (rather than readability), start with the last sentence and work backwards. It gives your brain a fresh take on familiar content.

2.     Spelling

Check and double check:

  • Names
  • Company names
  • Product names
  • Book titles or any resources or references you have used.

3.     Dates

Check your dates and times: did you mean to write 2020 rather than 2002? Are you sure the event is still “next month” not “next week” (particularly if the copy has been sitting on your desk for a while)? Is Thursday definitely the 17th or have you flipped a page in your calendar? If you’re dealing with an international audience, you may need to check time zones, too.

4.     Punctuation

Punctuation can be a minefield and inappropriate or missing apostrophes can alter the whole context of the sentence. (See this article). Stop at every punctuation mark to check.

5.     Hand it over

Hand your work over to someone else to quick-check for embarrassing bloopers you haven’t spotted because you’re too close to what you’ve written.

6.     Get physical

March around the office/park/bathroom reading it out loud. It’s amazing how a different setting and the act of speaking can help you spot errors. It might get you a few strange glances, but it’s worth it.

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
― Oscar Wilde

7.     Linking

Check all hyperlinks work. (And if you’re responsible for putting this on your website, that the hyperlink opens in a new window).

8.     Repetition

Look out for repetition, such as the same word appearing at the end of one line and the start of the next, for example:

We will be welcoming the Chairman and 

and the full Board of Directors to the party. 

Our brains can easily skip over these.

Also be on the alert for information repeated throughout your work. Your readers may feel patronised or simply switch off if you bang on about the same thing, even if your language is different. So be succinct.

9.     The first word

Scan the first word of each paragraph. If the same words keep cropping up, try to change some of them to make your content more sophisticated and engaging.

10.  Over-use

It’s not just the first word of each paragraph. Are there words you over-use throughout your copy? Get that thesaurus out and inject some creativity (without going over the top.)

11.  Keep it simple

Don’t use 20 words when two will do. Short and sweet is best to keep your audience’s attention.  I’ve written about this here.

12.  Come back later

I appreciate this final piece of advice is only useful when you don’t have a deadline hurtling towards you. But if you can, once you’ve done the initial proofread leave it alone and come back with fresh eyes, as the saying goes. It really does make all the difference.

 

Editing Edge are experienced copy editors working with publishers to edit and proofread, liaising with authors and collaborating with design teams. Call today for one-off projects or a series of pieces.