A few sloppy errors in a piece of writing – whether it’s an industry blog post, a PowerPoint slide or a tradeshow leave-behind – can quickly have an adverse impact on people’s perception of its quality.
In an ideal world, all your copy would go through a rigorous QA process before it sees the light of publication. But sometimes there just isn’t the time or resource.
Checking your own work is hard. You may be able to spot a typo within seconds of glancing at someone else’s copy, but it’s always harder to pick out the errors in your own work.
That’s because you already know what’s there, so your eyes aren’t always taking in the words on the page the seventh time around. To combat this, professional editors and writers use a range of tips and tricks to help them see their own copy afresh.
Use these 8 tips to help you proof your own copy like a pro…
1. Read it backwards
Starting with the last sentence and working through a piece in reverse order helps you see your words in a different way, and errors are more likely to stand out.
2. Print it out
It can be easier to spot mistakes on paper, so step away from your screen and print out a copy of your work to go through with a red pen to hand.
3. Read aloud
Your workmates may give you a few funny glances, but reading your copy aloud is one of the best ways to spot errors. It’s also perfect for highlighting errors of rhythm and overly long or rambling sentences. If you have to take a breath before you reach the full stop, that sentence is way too long.
4. Come back to it later
Close down the document and come back to it a few hours later for a final check – maybe finish it in the evening and give it a final check before sending first thing next morning. Again, you’re much more likely to pick up on mistakes.
5. Make it bigger, make it Comic sans
Changing the size of your text can make it easier to proof as, again, it forces you to look at the words differently. Changing the colour, font or line spacing can also help.
6. Use a checklist
Do you always mix up ‘complement’ and ‘compliment’? Do you always confuse ‘lose’ and ‘loose’? Do you have a mental block about ‘its’ and ‘it’s’? Make a checklist of your perennial mistakes to remind you to double-check your piece for them.
7. Use a spellchecker
We know the spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word isn’t foolproof. But with a pinch of salt it’s still a useful tool for making you think about your copy anew. It’s a handy way of carrying out spot-checks on random bits of your text.
8. Look for one thing at a time
Read through your copy several times, looking for different things on each read-through. Try and spot typos first, then look at sentence structure, then repeated words and phrases and so on. Finally, just check the big things – headlines, subheads, links etc.