Whether you’re writing ad copy, a blog post, a case study, an email, or even a Tweet or Facebook post, proofreading and editing must be integral to your quality control (QC) process. The most effective QC process is one that is well-defined, structured, and consistent. We have gathered our top ten tips for how to proofread and edit written work for quality results.
Read a Physical Copy
I find more errors when I am proofreading a hard copy as opposed to on a screen. Whenever possible, have the printed piece in front of you. This is especially critical when proofreading print collateral. If you’re proofreading a website, that needs to happen on-screen for UX testing purposes, it’s also a great idea to proofread hard copies of content before it’s put into the site if you can.
This is my secret weapon that many people don’t bother to do because it takes a long time. However, reading copy backwards is an excellent way to catch misspelled and missing words. When reading normally, it’s common to miss inverted letters or skip right over small missing and/or misspelled words because your brain auto completes what it’s reading. When reading backwards, the natural rhythm of what’s written has been removed, so even small errors are more likely to stand out.
Read Out Loud
This is another big one for me. Reading out loud helps to catch style and/or structure problems more accurately than reading in your head. Run-on and fragment sentences become more apparent, too. Reading out loud also helps you catch inconsistencies in tense, tone, and formality.
Solid proofreading requires laser focus. Remove yourself to a quiet place, turn off the music, and silence your phone. Close all tabs and turn off notifications. If you have nothing else to focus on but the task before you, you will do a better job proofreading.
Use Your Resources
I frequently turn to my AP Stylebook, Google, and Synectics Media’s internal style guide (more on this later!) when I’m proofreading. My grammar and spelling are not perfect, so I don’t hesitate to look things up if I’m unsure.
Understand Your Role
Editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
- Editing: Evaluating work for clarity, flow, and consistency with the intended purpose of the piece. Editing may involve rewriting, restructuring, adding, or removing content to improve the overall quality of the piece.
- Proofreading: Checking for surface spelling and grammar errors after a piece has been through the editing process.
At Synectics Media, there are many times when editing and proofreading happen simultaneously during the first round of QC and then additional proofreading takes place as needed during subsequent rounds of QC. Make sure you understand if the piece you’re looking at has already been through the editing process and only requires proofreading, or if you are to be looking at it with an editing eye, too.
If you are editing, be careful not to squelch the voice of the writer. There are times when editing will be more straightforward: ad or email copy that needs to be condensed, website copy that isn’t flowing well. There are other times, however, where the work is more subjective. I think this is particularly true of pieces like essays or blog posts. Sometimes, the way the writer states their ideas is not the way you would, but your job is not to change their work to fit your personal style. Your job is to make sure the piece is clear, flows well, follows brand voice consistency, and is written to support its intended goal. Any other input may just be your opinion and well, you know what they say about opinions.
Leave Yourself Enough Time
Effective editing and proofreading take time, and it’s often more time than people think it will take. If you rush through the process, you are going to miss errors. It’s as simple as that. Keep track of how long it takes you to edit and proofread different kinds of work, and then make sure the project budget allots enough time for a thorough QC process.
Make a List and Check It Twice
A comprehensive editing and proofreading checklist is a huge help. At Synectics Media, we used this list from HubSpot as a starting point and have created a few different checklists for different types of work (such as email campaigns, print pieces, and websites). Whoever is conducting the QC will print the checklist and initial off on every line item before returning it to the project manager. This helps to ensure all aspects of the piece are being reviewed and helps with accountability, too.
Have a Common Source of Truth
Oxford comma or not? When to use title case? People can have strong opinions on these issues and the debates can be endless. To produce your best work, we recommend establishing style guidelines that all writers will follow. I recently created a style guide for Synectics Media after some heated discussions around the Oxford comma. (For the record, I am anti-Oxford comma and I lost. But I’m not brooding about it.)
Wondering how to create a style guide? Ours includes guidelines on how to properly use the following (to name a few):
- Title capitalization
We also included best practices for social media posting, suggestions for clear and concise writing, and more. Our team uses this reference when writing, editing, and proofreading.
Find a Second Set of Eyes
Don’t be the only person proofreading your work. Someone else is more likely to catch errors you will inevitably miss. What’s more, no matter how fine a writer you are, someone else’s perspective can really help improve your work. As Stephen King said,
“To write is human. To edit is divine.”
Despite your best efforts, errors are going to happen from time to time. Some of them are worse than others. Do your due diligence, check all the boxes on your checklist, and if you can fix it, do so as soon as possible. If not, put a damage control plan into action if needed. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. (Easier said than done; I am ruthlessly unforgiving of myself when this has happened to me in the past.)
Do you have other proofreading tips that I didn’t mention here? Speak up in the comments - we love hearing from you!