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7 Steps to Proofreading Like a Pro

This is a guest contribution by Charles Cuninghame, website copywriter and owner of Text-Centric.

I’m sure we can all agree that proofreading is the least fun part of blogging. But while it may be tedious, it’s well worth the effort.

Typos are not only embarrassing, they can also cost you money.

In a widely reported study in 2011, British entrepreneur Charles Duncombe found a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half! If you don’t have a product, then you could be missing out a blog subscriber or repeat visitor!

A man shocked at your lack of proofreading!

Here’s a tried and tested proofreading process that I’ve taught to many novice writers with great success. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to thoroughly proofread an average length blog post in 5-10 minutes.

What you’ll need:

  1. A printer
  2. A red pen
  3. A highlighter pen

Step 1: Set it aside

Time permitting, set your blog post aside for a while before you proofread it. An hour is good, a day is better. The more time you put between the writing and proofreading, the more refreshed you’ll be and better able to spot any typos.

Step 2: Print it out

Research has shown that proofreading on-screen is not as effective as proofreading a printout. So do yourself a favour and print your post out. But run it through the spell checker first, to fix any obvious spelling mistakes.

Step 3: Mark up your changes

Get ready by minimising distractions. Proofreading requires your undivided attention. So turn off your phone, close your email and switch off the music.

Read through your post marking up typos and rough spots with your red pen as you go. Force yourself to slow down and concentrate. Focus on each word and character as you read.

Make your mark-ups obvious so you don’t overlook them at the corrections stage. Punctuation marks (commas, apostrophes, full-stops/periods, etc.) are particularly easy to miss. So it’s a good idea to circle the mark-up for extra emphasis.

It’s also a good idea to put a cross in the margin next to a line that contains a correction.

Step 4: Read out loud

Once you’re been through your blog post once, read it aloud. Reading aloud helps in two ways. Firstly, your ears will often catch mistakes that your eyes miss. Reading aloud forces a higher level of concentration than silent reading.

And secondly, reading out loud helps you to write conversationally. If your post sounds clunky when you speak it, you need to revise it until it sounds confidently conversational.

Step 5: Double-check details

There are some details that are particularly embarrassing or troublesome to get wrong. So you should double-check the following:

  • The spelling of people’s names e.g. is it Janine or Jenean? Stuart or Stewart?
  • Ditto brand names e.g. is it Word press, WordPress or Word Press?
  • Telephone numbers and email addresses
  • Prices
  • Click links to make sure they go where you want them to.

Step 6: Make corrections

Make all your corrections in one go, not as you find them. Be very careful as you make changes. You don’t want to add in errors at this stage. Be especially careful with any sections you’ve rewritten. If you’ve rewritten a significant portion of your post it’s best to print it out and proof it again.

A common mistake is missing corrections you’ve marked up on your printout. So as you make each change mark it off your printout with your highlighter. When you’ve finished making changes, go over your printout to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Step 7: Final check

As a final check, run the spell checker over your corrected post. Read it on-screen to make sure it looks OK. Break up any paragraphs that are longer than 5 lines. Now you’re good to hit the publish button!

Charles Cuninghame is a website copywriter and the author of the Website Content Cheat-Sheet. For important documents he usually hires a proofreader.

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Comments

  1. Hi Charles,

    Reading out loud is a powerful way to catch errors quickly. If it sounds awkward, rewrite. As for letting your post sit a few minutes should do nicely as waiting a whole day delays your shipping time. Wait a few, take a breath, return, proofread, correct and publish. Otherwise, your post will be waiting while 5 to 12 of mine have already been published ;)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

    • Good point Ryan. Writing to a tight schedule limits the time you can let your post “percolate”!

    • Graeme says:

      I find having a text-to-speech program (like the one on OS X) read my copy aloud is a quick way of finding doubled /missing words and awkwardly worded sections. I can almost never find doubled words when when I’m proofreading.

  2. “Ditto brand names e.g. is it WordPress, WordPress or Word Press?”

    Oh, the irony?

    • That one is my fault Stefan! Charles had it spot on in his submission but I managed to fluff it when formatting it. I’ve fixed it now but it doesn’t appear to be showing up in the live version. I’m all over it though!

      For the record, Charles said: Ditto brand names e.g. is it WordPress (BW: using a lowercase p), WordPress or Word Press?

      The display just don’t want to play! Even in my comment it’s showing up capitalised. Maybe WordPress has an inbuilt autocorrect!

    • Well spotted Stefan. Apparently it’s a genius brand integrity feature of WordPress that ensures the correct spelling!

  3. James says:

    Not that I’m against your article, but why is printing required? It’s quite simple to proof read an article without the need of wasting paper and ink.

    • True James, you can proofread on-screen. That’s the way newspaper sub-editors do it. I just find it’s not as effective, especially for long posts.

      • Laura says:

        I find you can achieve the same effect by simply putting the text into a different font, or copy/pasting it into a different program. You just need to trick your eye into seeing it in a different form.

      • Sarah Bauer says:

        I agree, Charles! Despite our best attempts at complete concentration, our eyes do tend to skim over content when we’re viewing it on a screen. The change of format is a worthwhile adjustment.
        Cheers
        Sarah Bauer
        Navigator Multimedia

  4. sandi says:

    Interesting reading, I found interesting information there!

    Thanks for this article!

  5. Mantha says:

    Informative! Way too many people either don’t proofread their posts. Thanks so much for sharing these great tips.

  6. Vivek says:

    ” proofreading on-screen is not as effective as proofreading a printout “. What type of research. And I think I will trust more on MS-Word than my eyes, might be because I am not a expert copywriter. But reading aloud is one of the best way to find the errors.

  7. Edson Hale says:

    After reading your post it seems writing a post is less time consuming then its proof reading that actually confirms it is better not to write a post than writing a post with full of mistake. Very informative article thanks

  8. ian ray says:

    Very useful and informative article. Thanks so much for sharing these great post. Thanks

  9. Wow! I never knew that spelling errors can cost you! Though I had a thought that they are embarrassing and I really know it is embarrassing.

    I proofread my content twice before publishing and very rarely…I still miss the mistakes.

  10. jerrylewis says:

    Thanks for sharing

    I love this article. It brings me back to my high school years and reminded me of my English teacher who would always inform us to check, double check our essays before submitting. During those years being students we don’t mind the importance of proof reading for as long as we comply what is asked.

  11. Philip Viana says:

    Good Article.

    In relation to reading your article out loud, I find that text-to-speech (TTS) software comes in handy when I am editing.

    Adding, some of the natural TTS voices from AT&T makes the process of editing a bit more pleasant, but listening to a robotic voice is just as effective.

  12. Dan Erickson says:

    Great tips for proofreading. I schedule my first drafts of posts out in advance and then check them again a few days before they run. I don’t have a printer and do everything from my Macbook Air. I still occasionally miss a word or punctuation, but I think we also become better at editing with time. I do print out book manuscripts for proofing. I have an editor go through it first, then I go through it. Reading aloud is great advice.

  13. Thomas Moore says:

    I do all of that and then most times hand it off to someone so another pair of eyes can look at it. Proof reading can take a lot of time but well worth it.

  14. Mike Martel says:

    I would also have my spouse review it. She can find my mistakes quicker than anyone. ;-). Seriously another pair of eyes is always good.

  15. Thanks for the proofreading advice Charles. Something I’ve learned is that editing usually becomes rushed (and therefore less effective) when you’re writing your posts down to the wire. If you aim to have your post entirely written 24 hours before it’s due for submission, you’ll always have time to edit. Another useful piece of advice I’ve been given is to not relay 100% on spell check. While spell check is great for picking up on most mistakes, nothing beats a second pair of eyes of your work to make sure it’s error free. (Case in point, spell check didn’t pick up on the fact that I wrote “relay” instead of “rely.”)

  16. Reneé Klein says:

    Hi Charles,

    I completely agree with your take on proofreading. We always use two proofreaders on each document. It’s always surprising what “fresh eyes” will see on a document that someone else has written.

  17. I don’t do proof reading my self I leave it for th proof reader plug in ? Is that Alright?

  18. TgGuide says:

    Dear Charles,

    For me, as a non-native English person, proofreading my posts, or text are always very hard. It is veryy hard for an individual, to find his own mistakes. I’ll try your method, to make this process easier!

    Thanks for it!

    Regards, T.Gergő

  19. Good point about printing it out. I have been printing posts out for a while now and it really does work….at least for me.

    Once printed out, I do read it out load as it seems to sink in more than not.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  20. Ryan says:

    Even though I have done these steps before, I always have grammer or spelling mistakes. Luckily a lot of modern browsers, like Chrome, have helped me out a lot in this.

  21. Marshal says:

    Excellent post. i think that proof reading is an important part of a blog. If the blogger is having a good proof read then he is taking out his own mistakes.
    You have given a nice method to take out print and then read it and highlight the mistakes.
    I will follow your points next time. :)
    Thanks

  22. One of the most effective methods I’ve come across is to actually read your work backwards. Not word for word backwards, but each sentence individually. This method helps with two things:

    1) It helps to catch errors as you are no longer reading in the order you created the work. You are more likely to see words or grammar that is out of place and less likely to skip them over and assume what it says instead of reading it.

    2) It helps to ensure that each sentence in and of itself makes sense. Sometimes you’ll come across something you’ve written and quickly realize you don’t even know what you’re referring to as the original object is two paragraphs back (up the page).

    This method can be a bit time consuming however, though the one above doesn’t seem any less.

    Great article, thanks for the tips.

  23. Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

    @Philip – Great tip! I’ve heard of using text-to-speech (TTS) software but I’ve never tried it.

    @Dan, Thomas, Mike and Renee – Getting someone else to run their eye over your writing is always the best!

  24. Drewry says:

    I find myself making many typos when I do manually type blog posts and forum threads, but it helps me become better at what I do on the web, in terms of publishing content.

    • I have been doing the read out loud method. It works. Even blog posts should be proofread like you would your book. Thank you for saying that.

  25. Joe says:

    Most of you know that SPELL CHECK is not 100% foolproof. A misspelled word, which becomes a new word in itself, will not be found by SPELL CHECK. I usually write my thoughts in NOTEPAD or WORD PERFECT, then print and check for errors. Of course, the other suggestions are right on. Having somebody else read your writings is always a very good idea!

  26. Sometimes, I find myself proofreading articles three times. Believe it or not, I find errors the third time. For this reason, I think that printing it out, and having the paper in front of me may subconsciously change this. Great post.

  27. Jana says:

    So helpful thank you. I can see where I keep going wrong. When rewriting that’s where I’m getting my errors! Time to proof all at once. Great tips.

  28. I absolutely have to set my posts and articles aside. I find leaving them for several hours is best. This enables me to review it with a fresh, objective eye – rather than the mind trap of reading what I wanted to say by proofing right away.

  29. Eddie Gear says:

    Charles, proof reading is essential for every blogger and content creator. With blogging and information creators its very important to maintain quality both for reader satisfaction and search rankings. Appreciate you sharing these simple yet effective tips. I have them printed out.

  30. Milos says:

    Yeah, the good proofreading protocol is definitely important. The best thing is, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Also, it is a good idea if you have a work partner that would read your already proofread blog post, before you publish it.

  31. Janet Ann Collins says:

    Quite a few times I’ve had spell checkers on blogs automatically change what I wrote to other words I didn’t intend to write and sometimes they keep making the same changes when I correct them. That drives me crazy!

  32. Mara says:

    Great tips for a proofreader. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Peggy says:

    When I worked as a professional proofer at an agency, I insisted that proofreading jobs be printed out for me, but that was only because I needed to be able to write out instructions for others to correct. I didn’t have time to spend hours printing a long website. I will say that if you’re proofreading a long website, it’s helpful to have a printed copy so you can easily check for consistency.

    However, for one post that you write yourself, I don’t agree that you have to print it out. In fact, I believe that proofreading online instead of on paper is a skill that must be acquired. The world is moving away from printed pages. If I still worked as a proofreader today, I might not be so picky about folks printing out websites for me.

    As a writer, the biggest thing that helps me to be a good proofreader is to let my work rest a full day before editing or proofreading. So, I was happy you put that as #1!

    • Hey that’s a great point about how we’re moving away from the printed page Peggy. On-screen proofing is a great skill to have. But I just think it’s much harder to achieve the same standard as proofing a hard copy, particularly if it’s a long document. Ultimately, and probably before too long, there will be some technology solution, such as a combined grammar checker and text-to-speech app.

  34. Typos are definitely embarrassing! And, with time slipping away even more than years past (so it seems), being able to proofread like a pro, efficiently, is a must.