Proofreading, what exactly does it entail? The answer may surprise you. Contrary to popular belief, proofreading is not a convoluted endeavor. Yes, I know, it sounds almost blasphemous coming from an experienced content editor who has spent years arguing with condescending critics about the intricacies of proofreading. But trust me, I can show you how to review your writing like a professional proofreader, even if you’re short on time.
These techniques will assist you in identifying and rectifying any errors in your content that may have eluded you before.
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The Distinction between Proofreading and Regular Reading
It’s commonly misunderstood that proofreading is no different from reading. Why would someone pay for a professional proofreader when anyone who can read can catch mistakes in a piece of writing?
This kind of thinking poses a challenge for freelance proofreaders seeking work. However, as many proofreaders discover, it’s more effective to focus on those who already understand the value of a comprehensive, professional proofreading rather than trying to win over those who simply don’t get it.
This lesson applies to copywriting strategies for any digital business:
Appeal to people who already recognize and appreciate the value of your product or service—the right prospects. Don’t waste your efforts on those who have no interest in what you offer—the wrong prospects.
One reason I love the proofreading techniques in this post is that they vividly demonstrate why proofreading is not just reading.
So, put aside your writer’s hat for a moment and don your proofreader’s fedora. Imagine reading your writing as someone who has never seen it before.
The Importance of Proofreading for Writers
Whenever someone questions the significance of proofreading, I have a go-to response:
“Pubic relations is quite different from public relations.”
We all make typos from time to time, inadvertently omitting or changing a letter in a word. Spotting such typos can be challenging when the mistake still results in a valid word or phrase. That’s precisely why proofreading plays a vital role in the writing process.
Just last week, I accidentally wrote “head lice” instead of “headline.” Need I say more?
But fear not, over the years, I’ve developed proofreading techniques that help me catch and correct errors before they see the light of day.
Striking a Balance
People have two contrasting attitudes when it comes to typos. Some find them unacceptable, while others are unfazed and wonder why anyone bothers to prevent them.
Well, surprise, surprise, I fall somewhere in the middle. I walk the line.
Labeling a website as “untrustworthy” due to a typo or a minor grammar slip-up may seem excessive. However, publishing content riddled with mistakes isn’t a wise move either. It can lead to customer service headaches.
Established publications might get away with the occasional typo, as their forgiving audience will let it slide. But if your website isn’t yet well-known and trusted, you need to demonstrate that you treat your content with the same care as the most seasoned content editors. Your goal is to provide the best possible experience for your readers.
Three Actions Professional Writers Take during Proofreading
Now, let’s focus on the main action a writer takes during proofreading. Would you like to learn the techniques I use to polish every article we publish on Copyblogger? These strategies can also be applied when you edit your own writing.
Give one of these three proofreading pointers a try the next time you want to refine your writing before hitting that publish button.
Action #1: Peek-a-boo Proofreading
For this method, you’ll need an opaque object that you can hold while proofreading. It can be a note card, your phone, or even a smoky quartz slab—use whatever is within reach and feels comfortable.
Start at the beginning of your text and cover the second word with the object, focusing solely on the first word. Once you’ve confirmed it’s the correct word, complete with the necessary punctuation, shift your attention to the second word and cover the third word. Continue this process throughout your draft.
By blocking out the next word in your text, you force yourself to slow down and scrutinize your writing critically. Names of companies, products, and people will stand out, allowing you to fact-check them. This technique also helps you quickly identify omitted words, repeated words, or improper word choices.
Action #2: Deep-tissue “Word” Massage
For this method, I utilize a retractable pen with a spongy tip that won’t scratch my computer screen. You can use an eraser on the end of a pencil, a cotton swab, or any other soft, pointed object.
Begin at the start of your text and physically underline each word as you proofread. Take a few seconds to focus on each word, giving it your full attention.
This method makes it easy to spot mistakes like “you’re/your/you” and “their/they’re/there.” Paying close attention to each letter also helps you notice any incorrect plurals or singulars.
Action #3: My All-Time Favorite Proofreading Technique
After proofreading and editing an article, I still feel like there’s something missing, as if mistakes are lurking in the content.
That’s when I turn to my trusty list of proofreading pointers to give my writing a final polish. And here’s the twist—instead of reading from start to finish, I read from the end to the beginning.
Here’s how it works:
Set aside a dedicated time for proofreading and commit to reading slowly. Start from the end of your document, reading the last sentence, then the second-to-last sentence, and so on, until you reach the entire last paragraph. Continue moving backward through your draft in the same way until you reach the headline.
Reading your text in reverse helps you spot writing blunders more easily. Plus, this technique often leads to edits that enhance your writing.
As an example, if you’ve unwittingly used the word “good” multiple times, this proofreading method will highlight weaker sections, giving you the opportunity to improve your word choice.
But wait, there’s more:
Stop at each punctuation mark as you review each sentence in reverse. Make sure each mark is used correctly. Are your periods ending complete sentences? Are your commas, dashes, quotation marks, and apostrophes all in their rightful places?
Punctuation marks guide readers through your content, and they should be able to navigate effortlessly. This proofreading activity ensures that you don’t overlook any marks and helps imprint each word and punctuation mark in your mind.
Did you mistakenly write “it’s” instead of “its”? “It’s” is the contraction of “it is,” while “its” is the possessive form of “it.” Careful evaluation of your punctuation choices will reveal the correct usage.
Did you write “you’re” when you actually meant “you’ve”? (Confession: I made that mistake in the first draft of this post, but let’s keep it between us.)
The Main Action for Writers during Proofreading: Discovering Mistakes, Big and Small
No matter how many times you review an article, using this final proofreading technique will help you identify any weaknesses you may have missed during the content editing stage.
During this process, you might notice overused words or repetitive sentence structures. This gives you the opportunity to spice up your language and make your text more engaging.
You’ll also frequently encounter genuine mistakes, such as incorrect apostrophe usage, misinterpreted phrases, or subtle typos. Give your content extra attention by reading from end to beginning, using either of the proofreading pointers mentioned above.
Your responsibility is to ensure that the words and phrases you present to your audience are accurate.
The Luxury of Digital Content
When I discovered content marketing, I thought it was beyond my capabilities. Regular writing seemed like an insurmountable goal. As an editor, I feared that even an accidental writing mistake would tarnish my reputation—I couldn’t afford to take that risk.
But do you see what was truly happening? It all came down to a lack of confidence. A confident person takes pride in their carefully crafted work while acknowledging that mistakes can still slip through.
The beauty of digital content lies in its malleability. It’s easy to make corrections and move on.
Providing Distraction-Free Reading Experiences for Your Readers
Proofreading is simple yet demands a skill that many lack. So, what is the main action a writer takes during proofreading? Arguably, it’s practicing patience.
If you have the patience to review your writing slowly, even just once, your proofreading session will be much more effective than rushing through multiple quick readings.
Treat proofreading as a specialized activity, and you’ll witness a remarkable improvement in the quality of your writing. This way, your readers can truly engage with your content without any distractions.