It’s been a while since I touched on the subject of proofreading, so here’s an article from the archives giving a foolproof guide to one of the most critical aspects of copywriting.


A Fool Proof Guide to Proofreading

Before I launch into this subject, I want to say two things: you are human; you will make mistakes.

Regardless of whether you’re a professional copywriter or the person in the office that gets all the writing tasks dumped on them, sooner or later an error will slip through.

It would be great if you could be 100% accurate 100% of the time, but that’s unrealistic for us humans. Probably 99.9% is the best you can hope for.

Proofreading is one of those things that is necessary, but that no one likes doing because it’s boring and time consuming.

Am I editing or proofing?

There’s a big difference between editing work and proofing it. Editing looks at the piece of writing as a whole to judge its quality, coherence, formatting, images etc.

Proofing on the other hand is simply about spelling, grammar and simplifying overly long sentences.

If you are asking someone to check over work, make sure you ask them to do the right thing. There’s no point in asking someone to proofread something only to berate them for not re-writing the argument to make it more compelling.

That’s why I’m just concentrating on proofreading for this particular post.

The best way to proofread

First off, this is based on my own experience. You may well have other views on how to proofread and you’re more than welcome to leave a comment at the end to tell me your preferred method.

  1. When should it be done?

As far as I’m concerned I haven’t found any particular time of day to be best for proofreading, but it goes without saying you should never start proofing tired.

It’s a fairly mundane task and if you’re already feeling sleepy it’ll have you snoring at your desk before you know it.

  1. Screen or hard copy?

Personally, I prefer to proofread from a hard copy. Not ideal for the environment, but I find it easier to spot mistakes and I can also jot down notes and mark up the text as I go.

If you prefer doing it from the screen, don’t sit there squinting at a tiny font, blow it up to about 200% so you can see every word clearly. This is also allows you to concentrate on each sentence in isolation.

  1. Out loud

Another good way to spot errors, and identify areas that just don’t flow, is to read the text out loud. This will also highlight sentences that are too long.

  1. Which side of the pond?

It’s important your text is consistent and that means deciding from the start whether it will be in UK or US English.

The start is also where you need to decide on other stylistic stuff, such as whether email will be spelt – e-mail, email, e mail etc.

If there are a lot of stylistic elements to take into consideration its best to jot them done on a piece of paper next to you for simple reference.

  1. Take a break

It’s never a good idea to finish writing something and then reviewing it immediately. Take a break and do something else to free up your mind. I also do at least 2 proofreading sweeps with a day in between (deadlines permitting), just in case something gets missed first time round.

Proofreading is far more than just casually reading through some text to spot the odd spelling error.

It takes time and practice, but even if you’ve been doing it for years there’s no room for complacency.

It’s very easy for typos to slip by unnoticed, even if you’ve read through it several times.

If at all possible, after you’ve proofed your work a couple of times, get someone else to go through it as well. Then, for your peace of mind, go through it again.