Proofreading your own work is really difficult. Trust me…I know! There is nothing worse than when an ‘editor’, ‘proofreader’ or ‘content consultant’ gets picked up for making a mistake in their own writing…but, we are human! It is difficult not to let your brain ‘see’ what you think you have written or wanted to write, rather than what is actually on the page in front of you.
However, it is really important that you do proofread. The luxury of digital is that you can often correct a mistake after publication, but just like you would double-check something going to print, do take the time to re-read social media posts, blogs posts, emails and website content. Although many people are sympathetic, an error-laden piece of copy does not look professional and there are plenty of pedants that will judge you harshly…trust me, I get sent examples on a regular basis with comments like “Look what this person wrote?!” or “How awful does this read!” or “Why would anyone put an apostrophe there?!” …I promise you, people do notice and it can really put off potential clients. There is definitely a feeling that if you haven’t taken the time to proofread, then what else can you ‘not be bothered to do’ or, perhaps, produce in a rush. It doesn’t reflect well, unfortunately.
So, how can you help to minimise errors? Here are five suggestions.
1. Reading out loud
To help check for errors, try reading what you have written out loud. And I mean, really read it. Take the time to read each word and focus on the punctuation you have used to see if it helps the flow, gives regular breaks and doesn’t confuse the reader.
If it is a longer piece, some suggest that also reading the paragraphs out of order can help to stop you ‘assuming’ what is written – this is useful for checking for typos and grammatical errors, but obviously won’t help with checking for the overall flow of the text, its structure and framework.
For some people, printing out the text and reading it in hard copy can also be helpful when reading out loud to proofread. I often like to print what I have written and take to it with a red pen…there is something very satisfactory about marking it all up and then making the corrections on screen. This also acts as a second proofread often too.
2. Take time out
The best proofreading method for me is leaving adequate time between writing and proofreading, at least a week is ideal, but a day is a good start…and even a couple of hours can make a difference. Again, it is about stopping the brain from tricking you in to reading what you think you have written rather than actually what you put down on the page.
Allowing yourself time between writing and proofreading can be tricky, I know, but when you are blogging, writing website copy or print marketing material, it is worthwhile scheduling this ‘break’ in. These pieces of text will be around for a long time, so it is worth investing in them and giving yourself the space to come back and check your work before uploading or printing.
3. Be your harshest critic
This is probably more of an ‘editing tool’ rather than strictly a proofreading method, but the only way to perfect your work is to be highly critical.
I always write lots, going with the flow and just getting everything out of my head and on to the page. However, this means I have to then go back and critically assess what I have written to make sure it is not only grammatically correct but also flows, makes sense and is easy to follow.
The best way for me to do this is to constantly ask myself “So, what?!” …in a rather disparaging tone! I think of my target audience and what they would be thinking when reading the text…would they be thinking “What a load of waffle? So, what?!” or “oooh this is interesting/helpful/makes sense” and “I want to read more.” If I can’t justify to myself why I have included something, then I take it out.
From a proofreading point of you, I can be even considering not just large pieces of text, but certain word choices – making sure that the words I have chosen truly convey what I want them too.
As I often say…Words matter. Choose wisely.
4. Use friends and family
As mentioned, it is incredibly difficult to proofread your own work, so ask someone you trust. There are plenty of pedants and grammar obsessives out there – I’m sure I am not the only one! Asking someone who doesn’t have a good knowledge of your profession can be helpful, especially if your text is aiming to be explanatory. If they understand it, then hopefully anyone will.
Ask them to not only check for typos, grammatical errors and punctuation errors, but also ask them about sense and flow and whether it answered all of their questions or if there were any sections that they found difficult or confusing. A sentence can be grammatically perfect with every thing spelt correctly…but still not make any sense! That is a why a human editor is so important over a spell checker!!!
5. Professional editing
Don’t be afraid to investigate the possibility of professional proofreading . Yes, ask me! It really is not as expensive as you may expect. I charge just £25 per hour and can often read over 1000 words in that time. It can be really important for what I call ‘forever text’, such as social media explanations/descriptions, print media or website copy. A second pair of eyes of someone who lives for consistency and correctness will be worth the investment.
You don’t have to use me, but please consider the following when choosing an editor –
- use someone who can explain their edits – there is nothing worse than seeing lots of corrections without understanding why
- use someone who gets your purpose of the writing – they have to understand the ‘why’
- use someone who gets you – everyone has a personal writing style, and most people want an element of themselves to come across in their writing, even for business, so don’t let an editor eliminate that.
So, there we go…five ideas for helping with your proofreading! I hope you find them useful and do feel free to comment with any questions.
If you want to find out more about my editing and proofreading services, do email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
…now, let me just go back and check for any mistakes…!