Rules are meant to be broken – but not when it comes to copywriting
There’s one in every office – someone who remembers back to English lesson 101 on punctuation, grammar, split-nouns and homonyms and is quick to point out the mistakes that, as educated adults, we all know but often forget.
But does the odd spelling mistake and misplaced comma really matter?
There are times where mis-spelling can be a positive. As a consumer if you search on mis-spelt things you can often get some great bargains as people post/ list things without realising.
In an era where social media is a main communication channel and every character counts – what’s a semi-colon or two (too) between friends?
And yes, some grammar and punctuation rules can—and should—be broken, when you know what the rules are and how to bend them effectively. But this only works if it’s a conscious choice, not where the lack of proofreading is glaringly obvious.
If you’re writing, it’s primarily because you are trying to communicate something. And if typos and mistakes clutter the copy you’ve written, not only can it be really distracting, it also gives the impression that your opinion on a subject may well be as uneducated as your spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Or, even worse, that you don’t care enough to correct it!
Most of us don’t have professional proofreaders to help us out on a regular basis and the fact is, proofreading is hard.
No matter how carefully you examine text, it seems there’s always one more little mistake (or missed comma in my case) waiting to be discovered.
There’s no fool-proof formula for perfect proofreading every time, but we’ve put together some tips to help you get your eagle eyes on and hopefully proofread copy effectively.
- Take a break
If you can, put your text aside for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished writing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember what you intended to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.
- Make time
Proofreading isn’t something you fit in at the end. The job is only half done when you’ve finished typing. You need to schedule and allocate time to this task. Avoid interruptions by going somewhere quiet. Ignore phone calls and e-mails and allow enough time to proofread any copy twice — once for technical accuracy, once for sense.
- Review a hard copy
Print out your text and review it line by line. Re-reading your work in a different format can help you spot errors that you previously missed. You can also use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you’re reading. This technique keeps you from skipping ahead of possible mistakes.
- Look for one type of problem at a time
Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation. As the saying goes, if you look for trouble, you’re likely to find it!
- Forget the story
Another way to catch spelling errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences. When the copy is not in order it helps you to see spelling mistakes and typos. Though it’s obviously not quite so useful when checking sentence structure!
- Read your text aloud
The easiest way to check that your writing flows well is by reading it aloud. You may hear a problem (a faulty verb ending, for example, or a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see. It will also help you spot mistakes spellchecker misses because, while it can flag that you put in an extra “e” in a word, it can’t tell you that the word you used is correct. This can also improve your writing style as it enables you to develop a unique and consistent “voice”.
- Do your sums
Double-check facts and figures and do it, or anything repetitive, separately from the main text. Somewhere between the screen and the client 2+2 often becomes 3 and stating that the value of an acquisition was £10,000 instead of £100,000 is definitely not the same thing.
- Use a Dictionary
Spellchecker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and lots of other common grammatical errors – but it can only tell you if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary.
- Create your own proofreading checklist
Get familiar with your frequent mistakes and keep a list of the ones you commonly make, and then refer to that list each time you proofread. Even the most experienced writer mixes up their, they’re, and there or too, two, and to. When you’re tired or writing fast, you write what you hear in your mind and just get careless.
- Finally… Ask for help
Invite someone else to proofread your text after you have reviewed it. A new set of eyes may immediately spot errors that you’ve overlooked.