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Whatever piece of content you’re writing (blog post, white paper, email, or a Facebook post), keeping it free of all mistakes is essential. You can accomplish this by proofreading and editing. In fact, this is one of the most important parts of finalizing any written piece of content. While there’s no foolproof formula to perfect the art of proofreading, there are certain tips that can be incorporated into the proofreading process.
These tips can (and should) be applied to any piece of content that needs to be proofed, whether that’s a business email with a proposal or an online e-book. Before you get started in the proofreading process, you should know that proofreading takes time. Why? There are multiple aspects that one needs to check and verify, including both spelling and grammar. Read on to discover seven tips and techniques to edit work for quality results.
Tip 1: Avoid All Distractions
First things first, in order to fully catch all mistakes when proofreading, you must remove all distractions. Since the proofreading process requires laser focus, it’s important to find a quiet space, turn off music, silence your phone, and even turn off your computer and any notifications. Having nothing else to focus on will boost your proofreading results. At the end of the day, concentration is key to being an effective proofreader.
Tip 2: Physically Read a Copy
Image via Flickr by sidewalk flying
Even though most work is now done on a computer screen, it’s surprising how many more errors can be found by proofreading a hard copy. Whenever time allows it, always proofread a printed version of your content. This applies to content that will be in print collateral as well as content that will be posted digitally. It’s amazing how the eye is able to catch more errors when reading content in a different format.
Tip 3: Read It Out Loud
There are many benefits to reading out loud. Some of them include the ability to catch any style or structure problems along with run-on or fragmented sentences. Reading a written piece out loud will also help you uncover inconsistencies in tense, tone, and formality. While it never hurts to read a piece of content in your head, reading out loud is one of the best techniques to incorporate into the proofreading process.
Tip 4: Read It Backwards
This tip is one of our secret weapons! Even though most people don’t take the time to do it, reading a piece backwards is one of the best ways to catch misspellings and even missed words. We’ve even caught a few that online spell checkers missed.
Why is this tip so effective? When reading content normally, our brain can miss inverted letters or even skip over missing and misspelled words. Our brains are wired to auto-complete as we read, which is why reading backwards (as awkward as it can be) is so rewarding. It interrupts the natural rhythm of what’s been written, allowing even the smallest of mistakes to stand out.
Tip 5: Look for One Type of Problem at a Time
Reading any piece of content to find all of the problems at once is a recipe for missing several mistakes. Not only should your piece be read through several times, but it’s important to have one focus per each read. For example, we recommend the following concentrations: first focus on sentence structure, then move on to word choice, check spelling, and end with punctuation. Once you’ve finished your read-through and all the necessary corrections are made, it’s important to read through your piece one last time before submitting it.
Tip 6: Use Resources for Help & Guidance
In the proofreading process, it’s important to not rely just on yourself. There are a variety of resources out there to help, many of whom will become your best friends.
During the first stage of proofreading, turn to your style guide for any and all questions and clarifications. Whether it’s the AP Stylebook, Google, or an in-house style guide for your brand (see tip 7 for more information), this tip will help to guarantee that all pieces of content written for your brand have consistent spelling, grammar, capitalization, and formatting.
Checklists are great! We recommend starting off with a pre-created one and add on to it with different items that you’ve consistently edited in the past. You can even have different checklists for different kinds of content, such as emails, print collateral, and digital. Creating a comprehensive checklist will help to ensure that all proofreading and editing aspects are being reviewed. Checklists also help with accountability and accomplishment as you (or anyone proofreading) can check or initial each item on the list until it’s complete.
Lastly (and when time allows), we encourage you to ask for help and a second set of eyes. Having your piece of work reviewed by another will help to catch errors you may have overlooked. It will also provide a fresh perspective, which can help to improve the overall piece and future pieces.
Tip 7: Create an In-house Brand Style Guide
In conjunction with the above tips, creating a brand style guide will make sure that your brand has one set of standards across everything that’s developed for your it. Your brand style guide even applies to logo usage and imagery. While APA and MLA style guides will help with those one-off questions, a brand book will keep things consistent for everyone who produces work for your company.
Why create this brand book? More often than not, people will have strong opinions on certain grammar items. Establishing guidelines will help to answer all of these questions.
What should be included in this brand style guide? We recommend that you start by addressing the following (knowing that this guide will evolve overtime):
Taking into account these seven proofreading tips while also allowing plenty of time (a few days is best) to review, “sleep on it”, and submit will help you make all written pieces as perfect as possible.