How to Effectively Proof and Edit Your Own Copy

characters-1188852-mI hate, hate, hate making typos. They drive me crazy. But, more importantly, they are embarrassing for me and my clients, make me look stupid, and appear as if I don’t care about what I’ve just spent so much time researching and writing.

I have a confession, though. Even more than I hate making typos, I hate proof-reading and editing my own content and copy. That extra work is tedious and anticlimactic. I am done creating. Now, I don’t want to spend another second on it. The process of reviewing content before it’s posted online is mind-numbingly dull…it takes every fiber of my being to spend even a minute ensuring that all information, grammar, spelling, and usage are correct and accurate.

Many writers feel just like I do about re-reading, proofing, and editing their own stuff. Yet, we all know how critical the process is. In 1893, Mark Twain, who had little patience for errors, said on the subject of proofreaders, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers.”

No matter how carefully we examine a text, it seems there’s always one more little screw-up waiting to be discovered. So we must be diligent in uncovering it (and all its little screw-up friends).

14 tips for effectively proofing and editing your own content and copy

Mark Nichols provides this insight, “Proofreading is the last line of defense for quality control in print and online publishing. Be sure to conduct a thorough proofread of all documents before they go live.”

There’s no foolproof formula for perfect proofreading every time, reveals writer Richard Norquist. But these 14 suggestions should help you see (or hear) your errors before anybody else does.

  1. Leave yourself plenty of time for proofing and editing.
    Build in enough time to finish writing everything…including adequate time to proof and edit your masterpiece with the proper amount of care and attention.
  2. Use a checklist.
    Create a list of important things to check for (or things you know you frequently mess up), such as problem areas (i.e., agreement of nouns and verbs and of pronouns and antecedents, and number style). Refer to that list each time you proofread.
  3. Give it a rest.
    If time allows (and it should if you did your scheduling properly), set your content or copy aside for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished writing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember the perfect paper you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.
  4. Look for one type of problem at a time.
    Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation. As the saying goes, if you look for trouble, you’re likely to find it.
  5. Double-check facts, figures, and proper names.
    In addition to reviewing for correct spelling and usage, make sure that all the information in your text is accurate. If information remains to be inserted at the last minute, note the omission prominently so that no one forgets about it. (I admit that I’ve posted copy with XX’s instead of numbers that needed to be filled in…sorry!)
  6. Review a hard copy.
    Print out your content and review it line by line. Rereading your work in a different format may help you catch errors that you previously missed. It’s a lot more obvious to see the error on the printed page than it is on a computer screen.
  7. Focus on one line at a time.
    When proofing print documents, use another piece of paper or a ruler to cover the text following the line you are proofreading, shifting the paper down as you go along. This technique helps you keep your place and discourages you from reading too quickly and missing those nasty, but subtle, errors.
  8. Read your text out loud.
    Or better yet, ask a friend or co-worker to read it aloud. You may hear a problem (like a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.
  9. Use a spell-checker.
    The spell-checker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and many other common errors—but remember that it’s NOT goof-proof. So don’t trust spell-check to find and fix every one of your mistakes correctly. Too many times, I have seen it replace a misspelled word with an inappropriate (but correctly spelled) one.
  10. Trust your dictionary.
    Your spell-check can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary (online or off) or refer to a glossary of commonly confused words.
  11. Turn your attention to format.
    Proofreading isn’t just about reviewing the text. Make sure that the content adheres to established specifications. Check page numbering, column and bulleted list style and alignment, relative fonts, sizes, and other features of standard elements such as headlines, subheadings, captions, and footnotes.
  12. Read your text backward.
    Another way to catch spelling and repeated word errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than whole sentences.
  13. Ask for help.
    Invite someone else to proofread your text after you have reviewed it. A new set of eyes may immediately spot errors that you’ve overlooked.
  14. Proof, edit…repeat.
    Once revisions have been made, proofread the document again with the same thoroughness, rather than simply spot-checking the changes.

Typos aren’t just embarrassing and distracting…they can cost your company money. In his 2011 study, British online entrepreneur, Charles Duncombe, revealed that a single spelling mistake on a website can cut online sales in half…eventually costing millions in revenue. So don’t leave your writing, proofreading and editing to chance. Talk to the pros at Solamar!

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