You might think proofreading is an outdated skill, laboriously done on paper using a red pen and old-fashioned symbols, and only relevant to the book publishing industry.
Well, I hope to persuade you that this is certainly not the case and that the common spellchecker is simply no match for a professional proofreader.
The written word is all around us, digitally accessible almost everywhere, 24/7. Words can inform, inspire, educate and entertain, and in the business world, words are a powerful tool. Used correctly and innovatively they can encourage your audience to take action, whether you are talking to existing customers, internal employees or potential clients.
The words you use need to be engaging, informative, and in the correct tone and language for your audience. Sometimes they need to elicit a specific response and this means your content needs to be succinct, clear and of course, correct.
Don’t let your content down
Content is often written, compiled and published in a pressurised environment. Multiple content editors, busy workloads and tight deadlines mean it is no wonder small mistakes can easily slip through the process.
You invest substantial resources such as time, energy and creativity in planning, creating and executing a content strategy to ensure your message reaches the audience. Sometimes, all that hard work can be marred by common errors or a small typo – how do you feel when you notice a spelling mistake in your everyday life?
One typo or error in your content, copy or communications can detract from the overall impression. Mistakes, however small, convey carelessness, which may undermine your brand’s integrity and the reputation you have worked so hard to build.
The power of social media also means that your audience has a readily accessible and far-reaching platform on which to point out any misdemeanours. Within seconds, negative feedback can reach not just you but your entire audience.
The benefits of proofreading – why it is worth the time and money
Proofreading provides the final polish to your words, ensuring clarity of message. It can provide peace of mind that your communications are the best they can be, and it frees you up to concentrate on what you do best. Proofreading can help you avoid embarrassment, negative feedback, and the time and cost of correcting errors.
Think of proofreading as the last line of defence before facing the world. You have showered, brushed your teeth, put together a great outfit and eaten a healthy breakfast; proofreading is the last look in the mirror to ensure you don’t have anything stuck in your teeth or a coffee stain on your shirt.
I would encourage everyone to build proofreading into their content publishing process, be willing to pay for it and recognise it as a valuable tool within their Content Strategy.
Proofreading is a specialist skill
A proofreader is not smarter than you are, a proofreader has, however, been trained to read differently.
As well as the obligatory knowledge and understanding of the English language, spelling and grammar, they also have an eye for detail, a methodical approach and an absolute passion for spotting and correcting errors. Yes, I’ve often been accused of being pedantic and pernickety, but these are certainly personality traits well suited to a proofreader.
There is often confusion between proofreading and copy-editing. Proofreading is the identification and correction of errors and inconsistencies. Copy-editing is a different process, which involves revising the actual writing, for example, the style, flow or tone of the copy. This is a more subjective area and requires a high level of trust between the author and copy-editor. Proofreading is more straightforward, either the text is correct or incorrect; it doesn’t matter if the copy is too wordy or full of jargon and it is not about personal taste.
Every job is different but typically, a proofreader will check and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. They will identify formatting and layout inconsistencies, and check the accuracy (if applicable) of page numbering, tables of content, headings, cross-references and illustrations/captions. A proofreader will also ensure the content conforms to your ‘style guide’ or will compile one for you if required for future reference.
Proofreading is largely completed electronically now as opposed to on paper. Methods range from simply using track changes in Microsoft Word, to editing PDFs with applications such as Adobe Acrobat or web content within a Content Management System (CMS).
Don’t be afraid to ask for a tailored service, if you don’t want formatting and layout checked, simply supply the copy as a word document. However, remember errors can be introduced in the design process or when cutting and pasting text into a CMS.
Common errors – what you should look for
You can’t become a proofreader overnight but there are some common errors that you should look for:
- Spelling typos created by transposing letters, missing letters or by simply miss-typing – these should be picked up by the spellchecker apart from the classic: from/form
- Incorrect word usage such as to, too, two or there, their, they’re; consider the following statement:
The mind reads what it expects to see.
The mnid reads wat it expcets ot see.
The mined reeds watt it excepts two sea.
Research suggests that in the second version, although the letters of some words are jumbled, people can still read the meaning. The third version is quite obviously compiled with incorrectly used words, but a spellchecker would actually pass every one as correctly spelt. This is an extreme example but it illustrates my point and when it is just one word, it is easily overlooked.
- Inconsistency – this includes spelling i.e. UK/US versions, for example -ise/-ize, two accepted spellings i.e. focused/focussed, and also capitalisation, abbreviations and hyphenation to name but a few.
The best advice I can give is do not proofread your own work; engage a professional proofreader (but obviously I’m bound to say that)!
Alternatively, ask a colleague to look at your words for you, but if that is not possible and you really must proofread your own work here are a few tips:
- Leave a break between writing and proofreading – ideally overnight
- Read slowly and out loud
- Look for common errors such as incorrect word usage
- Look for consistency in the spelling, capitalisation and punctuation of names, products, services and industry specific terminology used across your content platforms
- Create a style guide to inform all future content writers and ensure consistency.
I hope I have provided some enlightenment as to the nature, purpose and benefits of modern day proofreading and persuaded you to include proofreading in your Content Strategy. At the very least though, before you hit the publish/send/tweet button and after you have used the spell checker, please do have one last read through.