The ultimate guide to proofreading
Proofreading isn’t the most exciting task, and it can be incredibly time consuming, but it is, unfortunately, absolutely necessary. It can be easy to push proofreading tasks to the bottom of the to-do list and keep telling yourself you’ll do it later or tomorrow, or Monday but the longer you leave the soon it all starts to pile up.
Whether you are in charge of writing and editing all the content in your marketing company, you’re on your own trying to juggle it all, or you just have to check the odd piece now and then, our proofreading guide will help make checking your own copy a breeze. Discover our top tips and advice on making the task of proofreading as painless as possible, to ensure the copy your putting out reflects well on your business.
Why proofreading is so important?
Sloppy writing with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can make your business look bad and cause trouble with clients who are paying you to make them look good. It gives off the impression that your business is careless and lacking quality, which isn’t the image you want to portray.
What is the difference between proofreading and editing?
Proofreading and editing are two different things, and both are important steps when producing high-quality content. So, what is the difference?
Editing is the first step in producing good quality content. Once you have written your copy, you will edit it to ensure it makes sense, flows properly, and clearly gets your point across. During this step, you read through your entire document and enhance the language, cut out, add-in, and rearrange sections. This will often include substantial rewrites and reorganisation of the entire document. When editing, you often make substantial changes to the original copy to ensure it is of the highest quality. After you have finished editing the document, you should have a near-finished piece of work.
The next step is proofreading. Proofreading involves meticulously checking the written copy for any errors before it is posted on your website, blog, social media channels, in brochures, or sent out to customers. During the proofreading process you look for spelling and punctuation mistakes, grammatical errors, formatting issues, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and sentence structure. Proofreading is the cherry on top of the icing so to speak, as it is the final finishing touch to perfect what is already good.
How to effectively proofread your own copy
Step one: Prepare yourself
Before you start to proofread, you need to prepare yourself and ensure you are in the correct mindset to effectively proofread your copy. Get rid of any distractions around you, put your phone on silent or do not disturb, and get comfortable. Play to your strengths, everyone is different. Some people can focus better in complete silence and others work better with headphones in listening to music. Some are more alert in the mornings, whereas others get more done at the end of the day. Whatever works best for you, make sure you’re in the ideal workspace to work to your optimum performance.
Step two: Check your spelling
The first step when proofreading a document should be to ensure everything is spelt correctly. Use the spellcheck feature on your Microsoft Word, or whichever program you’re using. Whilst this isn’t completely fool proof, it will help to highlight any glaringly obvious mistakes. Ensure you have also selected the correct language version. UK English and US English differ slightly, and many words are spelt differently in the two variations. By selecting the right language, you will be able to see if you have used the correct spelling for your country and audience.
Next, utilise the free proofreading software Grammarly. This tool is incredibly easy to use; you can upload documents, copy and paste the content into the application, and even download it to your computer and use it for emails, messages, and social media platforms. Grammarly is slightly more advanced than your standard spellchecks, so picks up on smaller mistakes you may have made in your copy. It also checks the clarity of your documents and allows you to set goals including choosing an audience, tone of voice, and the level of formality of your document. It then gives you an overall quality score for your copy, which can be increased by addressing the suggestions Grammarly gives.
You can also purchase a premium version of Grammarly, which is slightly more advanced. This version comes with a built-in plagiarism checker and offers style suggestions for word usage and sentence structure.
Step three: Formatting and presentation
Spellchecking tools and Grammarly won’t necessarily be able to help you with the formatting and presentation of your document. To ensure consistency, you’ll have to pay close attention to:
- Capitalisation of letters
- Font sizing
- Font type
- Page breaking
- Numbering and dates
- Headings and subheadings
- Use of colour
- Brand guidelines
Step four: SEO
If you are writing something to go on a website, then you’ll want to ensure it is search engine optimised so that it ranks well on search engine results pages. Ideally, you want to reach the first page of Google for your keywords and to do this, SEO is incredibly important.
Google rewards content that has no errors, is well written, contains a good number of keywords, and is accurate. To make sure your website copy is perfect for Google and your readers, here are some things you should check:
- Internal and external links are working, relevant, and up to date
- Make sure your copy features the intended target keyword multiple times
- Long pieces of text are broken up using relevant headings to improve readability
- All images have relevant and descriptive alt tags
- Make sure meta descriptions and titles aren’t too long or too short
- Edit URL’s that are too long or feature unnecessary words
- Ensure the webpage isn’t too slow to load. This can be checked by using online tools such as PageSpeed Insights
Step five: A final read and check of the copy
Now that you’ve thoroughly checked your copy and ran it through spellcheckers and Grammarly, formatted it correctly, and ensured its search engine optimised, you probably think it’s pretty perfect. Before you post it anywhere though, make sure you have one last final read over it. We have come up with some proofreading techniques, tips, and tricks that work for us, to help catch those last little mistakes:
- Print out your work. When reading on a screen it can be easy to miss things. We find a printed document is easier to check, and it makes for much more effective proofreading. Once you’ve printed your work, read through it carefully and highlight any areas, sentences, or words that are wrong or don’t make sense as you go through, and annotate it with a pen.
- Read it out loud. You could also use the ‘Read Aloud’ feature on Microsoft Office products. This is especially important when proofreading for SEO and content optimisation. Reading aloud allows you to check if the text flows and reads naturally and that any keywords you’ve included don’t sound forced or too repetitive.
- Proofread your document again after a few hours or even the next day if you have the time.
- Read it backward. Read the last paragraph and go from there. When reading something numerous times, we tend to read it in a rehearsed way because we know what’s coming next. Reading your copy in reverse can help make errors stand out more clearly, and you can see your words differently.
- Make a list of common mistakes you make or often come across in other people’s work. Refer to this list each time you proofread work and tick off once you’ve checked for each thing.
- Read through and focus on one thing at a time. For example, the first time you read through you could just be checking to see if it reads well. The second time you could look for any grammatical issues or spelling mistakes. The third time you could check it has the right tone of voice and sticks to brand guidelines.
- Use the search function within a document to actively seek out mistakes you regularly make. For example, if you often confuse ‘there’ and ‘their’, intentionally search for this.
Before you sign off on any piece of work you should ask yourself:
- Does it read well?
- Is it presented well?
- Does it adhere to brand guidelines and tone of voice?
- Does it clearly get the point across or is there anything that lacks clarity?
There you have it, our top tips for proofreading your own copy. Use it next time you have to proofread your work and let us know if it helps you!