Everyone hates typos, especially once they’ve been printed, paid for, and distributed. Whether it’s a typo on product packaging, a printed communications piece or in an online advert, these mistakes put your company’s reputation on the line. What kind of quality can you assure clients if your marketing materials look like a rough draft?
Think about how you react when you see typos in the wild. You might laugh, sympathize with the content writer or roll your eyes and cringe. Either way, you’ll likely remember the typo more than you remember the message behind the content. Even small mistakes leave a lasting impression.
In this article, I’ll go over a few proofreading tips you can use for every written piece of content.
The importance of proofreading
I learned about the importance of proofreading when, to my frustration, I wasn’t given a chance to review a sample of the final hardcopy materials before they went to press. It sucks. Seeing those typos in the real world was a hard pill to swallow. From then on, I made sure every piece of content I worked on was thoroughly proofread.
Proofreading content is your last chance to catch and fix any errors before they are published or printed. Meticulously checking copy for any typos and errors helps you maintain credibility in the shareholder’s eyes (clients, partners, customers, and anyone else who reads your communications materials).
Consistently producing high-quality content will also reflect well on your business. After all, if you don’t take time to carefully proofread your content, how can you be trusted with bigger projects and responsibilities?
Plus, you’ll be able to build a glowing portfolio of high-quality content — this is especially important for copywriters and content writers looking to secure new clients. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hire writers whose previous work is full of errors.
Finally, reprinting communications materials or rectifying online communications is frustrating and costly — in terms of both time and money. In the 1980s, an unfortunate typo in a Yellow Pages advert cost $10 million in legal fees. The advertised travel company sued the Yellow Pages after the typo put the advertiser’s reputation on the line and cost them 80% of their business.
8 Proofreading tips for flawless content
Typos happen to the best of us. It’s impossible to be 100% perfect all of the time. But, by following these proofreading tips and techniques, you’ll be able to avoid most typos in your content.
1) Clarify the proofreading process
The proofreading process doesn’t have to happen in silos. When you work in an office or as part of a wider team, there are multiple people you can lean on for editing support. These people can cast fresh eyes over your copy to catch mistakes, add information, and edit copy.
If you don’t have a clear proofreading process, insist on one. You won’t regret it. Make sure whoever the final copy runs through before being sent to press is detail-oriented and experienced.
An example of a clear editing process is Journalist > Editor > Communications Director. Another example is Copywriter > Marketing Associate > Marketing Director.
Make as many proofreading rounds as you need, as long as you are absolutely sure that the content is going to press with NO errors. Insist on always seeing a sample (both printed and virtual) of the most updated copy before something goes to press too.
Developing a process (and sticking to it) will help you build effective proofreading habits. I recommend using a project management tool to digitize the proofreading process.
I use Asana to manage content projects being worked on by multiple people. Here, I can monitor whether the content is at the outline, first draft, final draft, editing, or scheduled stage.
I can also assign the project to different people depending on the stage it’s at. For instance, if the first draft has been completed, I can then assign the project to the dedicated proofreader for edits. Once they’ve completed their edits, the task can be assigned to the writer to work on the final draft. This process can then be repeated until we’re all happy with the final result. This digital trail helps hold everyone accountable to the proofreading process.
2) Read forwards and backwards
One of my favorite ways to catch a mistake is to change my perspective. Our brains are smart; they process multiple words at a time and parse the sentence based on those words. As such, they can fill in the gaps when presented with jumbled-up letters or skip over repeated words.
When you read back to front, paragraph by paragraph, you avoid glossing over a familiar sequence of thoughts and filling in what naturally comes next. When you go word by word, you avoid overlooking spelling errors. This is because reading backwards makes it harder for your brain to fill in the blanks and correct mistakes without you realizing it. Having words out-of-order also encourages you to read each word individually, not as part of a sentence.
3) Change the font styles or margins
Altering the layout of your content may expose errors that were missed before because you’re looking at things in a new context.
Changing margins could expose a missing word, repeated word, or double space that was overlooked because of a line break. Meanwhile, refreshing the font style could help you spot an extra word, incorrect “a” vs “an” or using the letter “c” when you meant to use “o”.
Tip: Turn off the “justify” feature when proofreading text. Text that is justified makes it harder to spot any pesky extra spaces that should be deleted.
4) Always work with the most current copy
We’ve all been there — editing a document only to find that it isn’t the most recent version. Working as part of a content team often means there are multiple eyes on a single piece of content. That’s why it’s vital that you always work with the most current copy.
Otherwise, you will jumble through edits that have already been made or confuse yourself trying to transfer corrections to the latest document after you’ve made them in an outdated version. If anyone ever says to you “this isn’t the most updated content but can you take a look at it?” — say no.
The best way to avoid the challenges of outdated content and duplicate copies is to only ever have one single truth at any given time. Have a working document that gets updated whenever someone makes any edits. I like using Google Docs’ suggested edits feature for this purpose. It lets you review what suggestions someone is making before accepting them. You can see version history too — so if anyone does overwrite the most current version, you can easily revert it to the correct one.
5) Print it out and annotate it
A change of scenery always helps. If you’re working from digital copies, print them out. Much like changing font style or reading backwards, printing content helps you see things in a different light.
Don’t stop at printing it out and reading it. Get out your pen and annotate the printed version to mark up any changes. If you’re looking for a smart system for annotating content, I recommend using the Chicago manual of style proofreader marks. This system makes light work of proofreading with shorthand annotations. From using ‘#’ to denote a missing space or ‘=’ to signify the need to add a hyphen, these proofreader marks are a great way to highlight changes on a printed copy. You can then easily refer to these marks when tracking changes electronically.
If you plan to share your annotated notes with someone else, make sure they also have access to the proofreading marks and how to read them.
Tip: Balance the time and resource cost with this one. If you have a 1,000-page novel, printing it out for every revision may be a waste of paper and ink. Not to mention the time it’ll take your desktop printer to churn all those pages out.
6) Keep a checklist of errors to watch out for
If you’re someone who finds themselves checking and rechecking content pieces only to keep finding more errors, you may benefit from having a proofreading checklist.
A proofreading checklist is a master document of all the different errors you need to look for when proofreading content pieces such as typos, paragraph length, introducing acronyms, or eliminating filler words. You could create various checklists depending on the content type. For instance, you may have different checklists for product packaging content, online communications and printed communications. Each checklist may vary slightly depending on the nuances of the content format.
Referring to a proofreading checklist will save you from having to repeatedly check content. Plus, knowing exactly what errors to look for will help minimize the risk of those mistakes slipping through unnoticed. This proofreading checklist will save you time when proofreading — and it’ll save you from the embarrassment of errors getting published after something has been supposedly proofread.
7) Proofread by listening
It’s easy to become “word blind” when you spend too much time writing and reading copy. One of my favorite ways to overcome this word blindness is to swap reading for listening.
If you haven’t yet used a listening tool to proofread your content, it’s a game changer. As you listen to your content through text-to-speech tools, you will pick up on errors that you may skim over when reading.
I find listening to copy is best for pin-pointing grammatically incorrect sentences. Sometimes the only way to realize something doesn’t read right is to listen to it. An easy way to do this is to copy the content into a fresh Google Doc and use the Speechify Chrome extension to enable text-to-speech reading. Alternatively, you can use the “Accessibility” settings within the Google Doc to enable the “Speak” option for selected text for free.
8) Outsource proofreading
If you’re responsible for end-to-end content management, outsourcing proofreading to an experienced editor or content writer might be your answer to stellar content.
Independent proofreaders or content writers can bring in-depth experience editing a variety of projects to help you develop clear, error-free content. These professionals will share attentive feedback backed by expertise, as well as fixing any other errors that were missed in the early stages of the content creation process.
Outsourcing proofreading will make sure you get objective input from someone who doesn’t have stakes in the content. Independent proofreaders and writers can help you find inconsistencies in your tone of voice or decode complicated industry-specific terms that would turn your audience away. They also aren’t as hesitant to delete your precious sentences.
Try these proofreading tools
Proofreading doesn’t have to be a manual labor of love. There are many tools you can use to polish up your proofreading techniques.
Here are some tools you can use to enhance your proofreading process:
- Grammarly – Cloud-based writing assistant that reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement and delivery errors.
- Hemingway app – Online editing tool that highlights errors in grammar, fluency, and sentence structure to improve your writing.
- Copyscape – Online plagiarism detection tool that detects duplicate content by checking whether similar text appears elsewhere on the internet
- Speechify – Text-to-speech mobile and desktop app that lets users turn text into interactive audio.
- Writer – Similar to Grammarly and Hemingway App, Writer is a free online editor for proofreading writing for style, word choice, tone, grammar, and spelling errors
- Marketmuse – AI content planning and optimization software that offers real-time feedback on how well your content covers its intended topic
- Wordtune – AI writing tool that acts as a personal writing assistant by providing suggested rewrites, rephrases and alternative sentence structures for your content.
Wrapping up — Avoid typos by polishing up your proofreading process
Proofread everything you write. Even if you think you’ve written it perfectly, proofread it. I cannot stress enough the importance of proofreading your copy.
Whether you work as part of a content management team or you’re managing content in silos, these proofreading tips and techniques will strengthen your editing skills. Creating a proofreading system will make it easier to find and fix common mistakes in your writing.
Tag-team manual proofreading processes with intelligent editing tools and software to ensure your content is as perfect as can be. After all, nobody wants to see their work go to print only to discover a glaringly obvious typo.
Published: March 2, 2015
Updated: October 20, 2022