Writing is an art, but proofreading (as any copywriter undoubtedly knows) is a science. Learning how to proofread is actually a lot harder than it sounds – unless you’re super methodical, small errors can escape even the most eagle-eyed.
If you’re a PR professional, even the smallest of errors can be disastrous – finding a typo in your press release is every PR’s nightmare. Misspell your client’s name and you’ll look like a fool. Make a typo in the contact email address and that email from that all important journalist is never going to arrive. You might be a fantastically creative writer, but make one of these errors and a whole campaign can be thrown into jeopardy. Proofreading, therefore, is an acquired and essential skill.
You don’t need to have X-ray eyes, just time to put aside and an ability to stay focussed for a short period of time. If you’re not so confident, we’ve put together some top tips that we’ve picked up which will help you learn how to proofread properly.
Have a break, have a hard copy
If you’ve ever spent a couple of hours slaving away at your computer over a piece of copy, you’ll know how much that non-stop screen time can affect your eyes and your ability to concentrate. Studies have shown that looking at screens can have some pretty serious effects on your concentration levels and your ability to multitask. This is the last thing you want when proofreading.
The best thing you can do when learning how to proofread is to take the time to print out your copy and put it aside for a short while. Take ten minutes to make a drink. When you do go to look at it, do so with fresh eyes. Look at it line by line, focussing on one thing at a time and editing as you go. Reviewing a hard copy makes it easier to write down your thoughts and catch errors that you might not have when looking at a screen with tired eyes.
This is pretty much the only instance in which we’ll tell you that content is not important!
When proofreading, it’s really temping to review your copy as a whole, including content and structure. This is a great thing to do, but quite often it means that you’re missing out on the small stuff – grammatical errors and typos. Think of proofreading as separate to editing. You should review your overall structure and content first – make sure your messaging is right and your structure is strong. Then forget about it completely. Focus on individual words. Chances are, you’ll spot something that you wouldn’t have if you were looking at your work as a whole.
Read it backwards
Speaking of individual words, we learnt this handy (if a little quirky) lesson from this unfortunate PR professional. After she misspelt the name of her client in a huge advertorial, she started proofreading her copy backwards, starting at the end of the copy and looking at each word in isolation. Yes, it’s a little unconventional, but we can’t think of a better way to truly focus on each word and make sure they’re spelt correctly!
Double check names, facts, and figures
Proofreading isn’t just about your spelling and grammar – you should also be checking for accuracy!
Make sure all proper names are spelt correctly, and that your facts and figures match your sources (and that your sources are accurate). While you’re at it, make sure your links are all working properly if you’re writing for the web. When you send out that press release, journalists will thank you for it!
Create a checklist
We all have little ticks in our writing. For some of us, it might be an overused phrase. For those less fortunate, it might be a mistake that you always make. If you’re constantly mixing up there, they’re, and their, make sure that this is something you’re always on the lookout for! A great thing to do to remind you how to proofread properly is to create a checklist of these and other mistakes that you should look out for. Once you’ve checked off each thing, you’ll know you’ve been thorough!
Phone a friend
Copywriters really should have four eyes. Unfortunately, like most people, we only have two. However, that doesn’t mean your copy should only ever be looked over by two eyes. As a minimum, you should be getting someone else to review every piece of copy you write, regardless of if it’s being sent to clients, customers, or journalists. You might even want to read it aloud to a colleague – you’ll instantly identify areas of your copy that have mistakes because they’ll be impossible to read!