4 years ago in Content • 10 min read
How to Proofread like a Boss
If you want to clamp down on copy errors and train your eyes to track every misplaced comma, explore our tips to improving your proofreading technique.
No matter what you’re writing, the work doesn’t stop when you type the final word. Proofreading is a skill that often goes unappreciated, but it’s vital if you want to guarantee your content and grammar is accurate.
Whether it’s a blog post on your website, an article in the newspaper or your school coursework, incorrect spelling, grammar and punctuation warn readers that you don’t have good attention to detail, which immediately weakens your stance in their eyes. It might be laborious and unexciting, but proofreading is not optional – it’s vital in giving the best impression to your readers, particularly when it relates to your business.
At Storm, our content team prize their proofreading skills and recognise how crucial they are in producing great copy, whether the work’s been produced in-house or passed by our clients for a final check. But proofreading isn’t as straightforward as looking over the words in front of you – if it was, they’d just call it ‘reading’.
If you want to clamp down on copy errors and train your eyes to track every misplaced comma, here are some tips to improve your proofreading technique.
1. Deal with distractions
Proofreading demands your full attention, and distractions will stop you from spotting mistakes. Remove anything that can steal your focus from the task at hand, be it your phone, television, emails or any number of the daily distractions that we expose ourselves to.
2. Don’t start proofing straight away
When it comes to proofreading your own work, it’s helpful to take some time away from the piece you’ve just written and focus on something else for 30 minutes or so. This means you come back with fresher eyes and are more likely to identify mistakes or make necessary amends than if you were to dive straight back in.
3. Know the purpose of the piece
This doesn’t really apply to your own work – you would like to think you’d know why you’ve just written something. But, when a colleague, client or other person hands you something to run your eyes over, it’s important to know the context and purpose of the copy. This means when you proofread it you have a better understanding of why they’ve used the terminology in front of you, so you’re picking up errors in only the right places.
4. Divide the task, not your attention
You’re looking for several things when you proofread a piece of content: spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, format, etc. That’s a lot to get done in one sitting. Instead, devote a little more time and break the task down to multiple read-throughs. For example, try:
- Proofread #1 – Spelling and grammar
- Proofread #2 – Punctuation
- Proofread #3 – Styling and formatting
This ensures your full focus is on one aspect of the content at a time, making it more likely you’ll locate the errors associated with each read-through.
5. Change the presentation
While it can be perfectly fine to proofread on your screen, people tend to read differently on this compared to on paper. This means printing out the work can make it more straightforward to catch any issues your eye may have missed on screen. Alternatively, format the copy in a different font and text style and see if that makes a difference.
6. Get a helping hand from computer tools
If you do read on screen, you can support your proofreading with some tools on your computer. While you should never simply rely on spell-check, it can be a first sign that a word or phrase is misspelt or misplaced. On top of this, there are several online tools, apps and extensions that provide a second set of eyes over your writing, including:
- Hemingway Editor
- Slick Write
7. Proof out loud
When we read, we typically do so silently to avoid annoying the person you’re sitting opposite on the train. At least that’s my reasoning. However, in the right setting, it can be effective to break from convention and read out loud. This helps reveal grammatical errors and any sentences that sound clumsy or confusing when spoken.
8. Backwards sentence each reading try
No, this isn’t a party trick we’ve snuck in halfway through. When reading sentences normally we tend to find a rhythm that causes us to skim or not need to look at every word. By reading backwards, it forces you to examine every word as you can’t find a flow, meaning any mistakes are magnified.
9. Beware of common spelling mistakes
There are numerous common spelling and grammatical mistakes that haunt most first drafts in one way or another. A few frequent examples include:
- Using the wrong type of there, their or they’re
- Getting confused between its and it’s
- Being hampered by homonyms like accept and except, or complement and compliment
- Choosing wrong between affect and effect
These can be difficult to spot as they sound fine when spoken and sometimes won’t appear on spell-check, so it’s important to focus on these common pitfalls in particular.
10. React to repeat words
As well as the common grammatical issues that plague first drafts, writers can also regularly fall into the trap of using the same words and phrases frequently. Identifying these help you present more varied, interesting language to engage your readers, so when you proofread pay attention to how often you use certain words.
11. Small mistakes can be the most significant
Often the hardest errors to notice in a piece of copy are the smallest ones. Words like so, as, and, is, it, be, etc. become blind spots when we’re reading normally, meaning you might miss spelling errors or the wrong word being used in a particular place. Instead, remember that size doesn’t matter and pay as close attention to the tiny text as you do the key copy.
12. Verify, verify, verify
Depending on the subject you’ve just written on or been asked to proofread some copy for, you will likely encounter the names of people, places, locations, companies and products that won’t be found in the dictionary. If you find these throughout the piece, a quick Google search will verify the correct spelling and layout you need that prevents ‘Storm Creative’ being denoted as ‘StormCreative’.
13. Track and highlight changes
While you can make immediate edits to your own work, if you’re proofing somebody else’s it’s important to point these out so they can apply them and recognise what is being altered and why. Whether this is by using tracked changes on your Word document or running a trusty highlighter over the paper in front of you, always leave your mark on a proofreading job.
14. Four eyes are better than one
No, this doesn’t mean people with glasses are better proofreaders. Instead, once you’ve conducted your own proof of copy you’ve worked on, pass it onto a friend, colleague or another trusted person to perform their own. Our copywriters have done this for many of our clients, providing a fresh set of eyes and perspective to pick out errors that someone too familiar with the original work may have missed.
15. Don’t devote days to the task
Eventually, you’re going to have to hit the publish or print button. While proofreading is essential as our previous 14 points have shown, it’s important to remember we’re only human and mistakes sometimes slip through the net. Following the previous tips ensures this is kept to a minimum, but don’t feel you must check your copy 20 times just to make sure.
Treating your content with care
We hope these tips and techniques improve your level of proofreading and give you a greater appreciation of the detail involved. It’s a skill as important as writing and editing in the process of producing content, and enhancing this is crucial to your ability to create quality copy at every opportunity.
If captivating, creative and correct content is what you’re looking for, Storm has the answer. Our team of experienced, passionate copywriters take the time to determine and apply your unique tone of voice across all your content channels, presenting copy that is free of silly mistakes, reliably researched and speaks to your audience in an engaging, informative way.