Proofreading written content before publishing it is no longer a given, as evidenced by the number of careless typos I see everywhere. In the rush to publish, it seems that many writers view proofreading as optional. I have read some great blog posts, and just as I am thinking about how I am going to share with my network, there it is … the hideous typo. I won’t share content with blatant errors in it because to me, that’s not quality content.
Mistakes involving spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word choice do matter, can make or break the quality and clarity of your content, and have an effect on your reputation. While it’s almost impossible to be perfect 100 percent of the time (hopefully there’s not a typo lurking in this post, but I’m sure someone will tell me if there is), you can avoid most embarrassing typos if you follow these tips.
Familiarize yourself with basic grammar rules. There are some common grammar mistakes that trip up a lot of people. Using “your” instead of “you’re,” “affect” instead of “effect,” a misplaced apostrophe – these are all errors you might not catch if your last grammar lesson was in grammar school. Brush up on the basics and proofreading will become easier. Many of the big grammar crimes will jump right out at you as you review your work (as long as you understand the rules, that is). Need some help? Download this checklist as a reference to keep right next to you as you write and proofread.
Don’t proofread your own writing. Most print publications like newspapers and magazines are vetted by a whole team of editors before they are published. That might not be the case with blog posts and other forms of online content, which may be written and published by the same person. But everyone’s writing can benefit from another set of eyes. An editor is a great investment for your content team (freelance or in-house). If you don’t have that luxury, ask the most detail-oriented person on your team to read over your work before you hit “publish.”
Print out your work. For some reason, errors you don’t notice when you’re typing on your computer are easier to spot when you read a hard copy of your writing. Or some people swear by emailing themselves a copy of their work and reading it on a different device, like their phone or tablet.
Give it a rest. Set your work aside — whether it’s for an hour or two, or a day or two. You’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and will probably notice things you didn’t before. If you’re on a tight deadline, walk away for at least five minutes. Whatever you do, never write and publish without a thorough review and proofread.
Read your work aloud. Just like seeing your writing in print can give you a different perspective on it, reading something aloud can help you pick up on mistakes or even phrasing that could be clearer. This is especially helpful if you’re aiming for a conversational tone in your writing. If it sounds natural when you read it out loud, it will sound natural in print, too. If you have someone to help you with this task, even better. Give her the hard copy you printed out and have her follow along carefully as you read. She should be able to flag missing words or discrepancies that your brain might skim over.
Don’t rely on spell-check. You already know that spell-check won’t save you from usage errors like “its” instead of “it’s” or “there” when you meant “their.” It also won’t flag repeated or missing words — little ones like “to,” “of,” “and,” “or,” and “the” are common culprits.
Read your work backwards. Some people swear by this trick. When you read something as you normally would, especially if it’s something you wrote yourself, your brain knows what you meant to write and can skip over mistakes. Reading it backwards — right to left — requires some mental gymnastics that can make slip-ups easier to spot.
Double check facts. Look up facts, figures, proper names, Twitter handles, website URLs, and anything else that you just “know for sure” is right, because sometimes your memory isn’t what you think it is.
Remarkable content isn’t easy and isn’t an accident. Keep these tips in mind as you review what you write so your content is top quality and error free — and people are willing to share it. Want to dive deeper into style, grammar, and the art of proofreading? Try the classic for every writer, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
Have any good proofreading tips that you think I missed? Let me know in the comments.