A lot of people hate writing. Maybe you, if you’re reading this post. Yet written communication is an important skill that has only gotten more valuable in this digital age.
In a professional setting, whether you are sending an email to a colleague, issuing a press release, or sharing a white paper with potential clients, proofreading is crucial. A typo in the headline could turn off a potential reader. A misstated fact could damage your company’s reputation.
Proper editing and proofreading can ward off disasters like these. You may have a reliable editor on hand to help with this kind of thing. Sometimes, though, you just have to do it yourself. Here’s how.
1. Get rid of noise and other distractions.
Trying to proofread in a busy, noisy environment is a recipe for disaster. Distractions will keep you from noticing small errors that could make or break your content. Find a quiet spot alone where you can fully immerse yourself in the words.
2. Break up the task.
If you’re not too short on time, break up the proofreading into several smaller sessions. This is especially important if you’re looking at a longer document, like a press release or a white paper. Trying to proofread something all at once can make your mind wander and lead you to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Proofreading in shorter chunks of time will help you focus.
3. Know what you’re looking for.
Proofreading can get overwhelming if you’re not sure what to look for. Here are some ideas:
- Check your pronouns (he, they, it, which, those, etc.) and make sure it is clear which nouns they refer to.
- Are there homophones you may have misused?
- Remove unnecessary words.
- Have you used elements like commas, dashes, and parentheses correctly? Have you overused them?
- Revise sentence fragments.
4. Imagine your reader.
Before giving a document your stamp of approval, make sure you’ve read it from the point of view of its intended audience. Will they understand all the terms you’ve used? Have you made your point clear? Is the tone appropriate to the topic and reader? If not, it’s time to make some changes.
5. Remove jargon.
Keep your language simple and straightforward. Don’t use longer words just to sound smarter or more official. Don’t use vague, complex phrases just because they’re common in your industry.
This applies even if your writing is addressing an industry peer. For example, don’t use terms like “cross-pollinate” (unless you are actually talking about plants). If you mean “sharing knowledge and ideas,” just say that.
If you’re not sure how to use a word properly, double-check its meaning or pick another word.
6. Double-check your facts.
When citing data, check your source to make sure you have the numbers correct, down to the decimal point. If you quote someone, double-check that their quote is accurate, and used in the appropriate context. Make sure you have all names and titles spelled correctly.
7. Go slowly.
Rushing through the proofreading process almost guarantees you’ll miss something. Take it as slowly as you can, one sentence at a time. Give yourself plenty of time to spot errors and check facts.
8. Refer to the style guide, if applicable.
Scientific or literary publications often follow a particular writing and citation style. Many private organizations have style guides for their marketing materials to keep all their content consistent. Once you’ve done more basic proofreading, finish up by comparing your writing to any applicable style guide.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on track to becoming a more effective writer!
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