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Top 5 Tips For Proofreading Your Business Content
by Startacus Admin
Startacus Member Ross Harrison is a proofreader and a science fiction and thriller author. Founder ofLast Word Proofreading he has shared with us his top five tips on proofreading your business content. Words from the wise so to speak!
Over to our friend Ross to explain all / put pen to paper (sorry)...
‘Business content’ does not apply to just brochures, press releases and articles.
Everything that the public will see should be proofread. That includes the most simple of web pages, a list of ingredients on a product’s label, correspondence to customers, etc. It isn’t quite as simple as casting an eye over your content and waiting for something to jump out – or as simple as clicking spell check – so here are some tips to clean it up:
1. Do it
That’s my top tip. If you take away anything from these it should be to not skip proofreading. Too many businesses – and individuals – think that simply taking care in the first place is a good enough measure to prevent errors, or that their knowledge of the English language means that they couldn’t possibly make a mistake. Or worse: that a few mistakes won’t make a difference! That’s their first mistake.
A single apostrophe in the wrong place, the wrong version of ‘there’, a semicolon thrown in for the sake of looking intelligent: just one of these will prevent your content from looking professional. Even if your service/product has nothing to do with the English language (which is likely), something lurks in your potential customer’s mind and scans for errors. If the lurker sees even one, it screeches at said customer and tells them to avoid you. After all, if you don’t have a grasp of basic grammar, what else might you do wrong? Too many errors and people might even start to wonder if your business is legitimate. It might not be fair, but we all have that lurker.
2. Consider Hiring a Professional
This will depend on many factors, such as budget, type of content, type of business, and the format. Freelance proofreaders will charge either by the hour or per 1000 words (they may quote a miniscule price per word to make it seem cheaper). For individual articles, web pages, etc., the latter pricing might work out lower – although they will likely have a base charge too (mine is £20).
There are pros and cons of hiring a proofreader. The cons are pretty much limited to cost, although if you aren’t careful to specify a deadline, you might also end up waiting longer than you’d like.
If you do have the budget for it, however, it’s worth considering (and worth pricing anyway, since there’s no set, universal price for proofreading). Although at the end of the day you are still responsible for the content and any errors therein, having a professional proofread it gives you peace of mind and more confidence that the content is strong and clear.
Proofreaders do more than simply look for typos and spelling mistakes. They will look for ambiguity, consistency, confusable words, and other things that a non-professional might not think of or spot.
3. Give it to Someone Else
If you do end up keeping it in-house, the proofreading is best done by anyone other than the person who wrote the content. The main reason that authors need proofreaders isn’t because they don’t know the difference between a semicolon and an asterisk, but because there are few things harder than accurately proofreading your own work. No matter how hard you try and how hard you focus, you will always miss errors in your own writing. This is because we know what we meant to write and so that’s what we read.
You’ve probably seen the irritating ‘if you can read this’ posts on Facebook that have words written backwards or jumbled, yet you can still read what they say. This is because our brains are good at taking the elements of words and deducing what that word is, all in a matter of milliseconds. In this way, it is easy to pass over the word ‘wierd’, for example, and not notice that is it spelled wrong. Or to not notice that I wrote ‘is it’ instead of ‘it is’. Perhaps fifty per cent of readers will have noticed that those were wrong, but the other fifty per cent are lucky they aren’t proofreading this article – even if you immediately spotted that ‘wierd’ was wrong, it’s all too easy to unwittingly assume the rest of the sentence is clean.
In short, don’t proofread your own work if you can avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, the next two tips are especially important.
4. Multiple Passes
This can be frustrating, but it’s important to go over the content more than once. If you’re running a business, there’s a good chance you don’t really have the time to sit and read the same thing over and over, but try to get in two passes.
If you try to proofread for everything in one pass, you’re only increasing your chances of missing something. Split your focus into two passes (let’s stick to two, since any more probably isn’t realistic – even a professional proofreader probably won’t make more than two passes). Make the first pass about finding spelling mistakes, omitted or extraneous words, etc. Make the second about consistency, ambiguity, and house style. A competent business that puts out much content will have a house style – stating whether to use –ise or –ize endings; rules on capitalisation, headings, abbreviations, punctuation; and anything else to help with consistency across the business.
In addition, if there are multiple headings, graphs, captions, etc., you would be best checking these separately from the main content.
All that said, it’s about what works best for you, at the end of the day (a professional would tell you if using that phrase again so soon works or not).
5. Proofread a Hardcopy
Again, this may not be realistic, depending on how much content you put out and on your deadlines. If possible, print the content to be proofread. Proofreading on a hardcopy not only allows you to use a ruler (a simple method that goes a long way to making you focus), but also increases the likelihood of spotting errors. It is a lot easier to miss things when reading on a computer screen than reading words on a sheet of paper.
At the very least, if you are proofreading from copy (i.e. you have the copy-editor’s corrections and are comparing it to the finalised version), you should print that out. If you are flicking between two windows on the screen, it’s easy to find your mind wandering while your eyes just scan over the lines.
It helps to know the usual process of publication. Depending on the size of your business, you may not have a copy-editor. Depending on your platform or product, you may not have a typesetter. Whoever puts your content into a webpage might be your business’s version of the typesetter, if changes to the content after it has been put in would cause issues with the way it displays.
Anyway, the usual, basic workflow is:
Writing and Submission
Of course, there are other stages, but from these you can see how much might have changed since the initial writing. The copy-editor will almost certainly have made changes. The typesetter might have spotted something the copy-editor didn’t and changed it (and may even have done so mistakenly), or made a mistake when copying the content over to the digital or physical page. So a physical version and proofreading from copy go a long way to ensuring clean content.
Hopefully these five tips will help make your content and/or product all the more professional. Remember, if you only take one thing away from this, it should be: don’t skip proofreading!
Ross Harrison is a proofreader and a science fiction and thriller author. His service, Last Word Proofreading, can be found at http://lastwordproofreading.com - Cheers Ross!!