Tempted to type and dash? Here’s why proofreading before submitting is vital for all writers!
No one wants to submit a piece of work that isn’t up to scratch! But for writers, this is a constant fear. Whatever you’re writing — be it a blog post, magazine article, or novel — you’ll want it to be free from errors. How can you guarantee this? Well, this is where proofreading comes in.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is the process by which you check for mistakes in a piece of work. This could be anything from grammatical mistakes to errors in content. Nobody’s perfect — it’s easy to make mistakes. However, it’s when you don’t correct them that issues arise.
It’s easy to get complacent with proofreading and start skimming your work or skipping a proof entirely. However, there’s always a significant chance that there will be at least some errors in a piece of writing — and these don’t just go away. Without a comprehensive check, mistakes will remain in your work for your clients, customers, or readers to see loud and clear.
How can proofreading improve your work?
When we’re writing, our brains tend to know what we want to say more than our hands. It’s easy to tap away on our keyboard, skipping words, missing out crucial punctuation, and spelling words incorrectly. We just assume we’re typing the phrase we have in mind, particularly when we’re working quickly.
Proofreading gives us a chance to rectify our mistakes. Perhaps you’ve spelt a word incorrectly, completely changing its meaning. Or maybe your typo doesn’t make sense at all, making your work appear poorly written and low quality. A misplaced apostrophe can even change the meaning of a whole sentence! There’s more going on in a piece of writing than most people think — spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax all come into play.
When we’re considering the importance of proofreading, it’s helpful to think of the aims of the proofreader. What are they trying to do when they sit down to proofread a piece of work?
The aims of proofreading
As we’ve already mentioned, a proofreader checks for writing errors. However, they’re also concerned with:
- Making a piece of writing more readable (though most of this will be completed in the editing process, more on this below!)
- Ensuring links in online articles are correct and in working order.
- Checking for continuity mistakes (e.g. contradictory information or details).
- Ensuring the piece is formatted correctly and consistently.
- Checking that the writing meets the brief (in copywriting).
What do proofreaders check?
Here’s an overview of the different elements that proofreaders will have in mind as they proofread a piece of writing…
Inaccurate spelling stands out. The proofreader will be looking at every word to check for mistakes such as:
- Misspelt words
- Misuse of definite and indefinite articles
- Misuse of prepositions
- Issues with homophones
- Mixing up similar words
Grammar is the way that we arrange words to make proper sentences. A proofreader will identify issues such as:
- Faulty parallelism
- Consistent tense
- Subject-verb agreement
- Misplaced modifiers
- Sentence fragments
- Ending a sentence in a preposition
- Mixing up adverbs and adjectives
- Missing comma in a compound sentence
- No clear antecedent
- Incomplete comparisons
They’ll also check that you haven’t missed out or used the wrong kind of punctuation, keeping an eye on:
- Correct use of quotation marks
- Full stops
- Missing or misused commas
- Use of hyphens, em dashes and en dashes
- Use of colons and semi colons
Formatting and style
Finally, a proofreader will check that the piece’s formatting and style are correct and consistent. This includes:
- Formatting quotations and citations
- Consistent capitalisations and spellings
- Treatment of numbers, lists, quotes
- Paragraph indentation and spacing
- Headers and footers
- Page numbers
Tips for proofreading your own work
It’s a difficult task proofreading someone else’s work, let alone your own. If you need to proofread your own writing, here are a few tips that can make the process easier and more effective…
- Don’t proofread straight after writing – take a break first.
- Be aware of common mistakes – this should include general writing mistakes and things you frequently slip up on.
- Read a hard copy if possible – if you’ve written your work on a screen, reading on a printed page can make mistakes stand out more clearly.
- Change the font, colour, and size – if you are proofing multiple shorter pieces, you probably won’t want to print them all out. If you’re proofreading online, play around with the font, colour, and size of your type.
- Take it slow – the point of proofreading is to spot mistakes, so slow and steady wins the race. When we read quickly, we are more likely to gloss over the details.
- Make a conscious effort to look at each and every word – our brain can fill in missing words and correct misspelt ones — clever, but not very useful for proofreading!
- Read aloud – this is a great way to get a feel for the flow of a piece of writing and can alert you to missed words and incorrect punctuation.
- Use free online proofreading tools – even if someone else can’t proofread your work, an online tool can. Upload your writing to Grammarly or Hemingway for an extra check.
- Avoid distractions – find somewhere quiet, away from other people’s conversations or music.
- Take frequent breaks – you’ll do a better job if you’re not overloading your brain with too much for too long.
It goes without saying, but it’s always better to have someone else proofread your work than to do it yourself. At Zipcopi, we’re always here to lend a hand with your proofreading needs — whether you’re looking for someone to cast an eye on your blog posts, press release, website copy, or product descriptions. Drop us a line to discuss your needs.
What’s the difference between proofing and editing?
Proofreading and editing are often thought of as the same thing. However, there are key differences between the two. Though they are both important in crafting well-written copy, each has a specific purpose. Whether you’re a copywriter or a client commissioning content, it’s essential to understand the difference between them.
Editing comes before proofreading. During the editing process, the editor will look at things like language clarity, sentence structure, and flow — they are concerned with improving the substance of the writing, not just performing the final check. Editing is a collaborative process that involves both the writer and editor. As many suggestions will be made and the editor will take an in-depth look at the core features of the writing, it takes more time to complete than proofreading. There can also be multiple rounds of edits, though this is usually for longer, more complex documents and books.
The proofreader looks at the final draft of the document and makes further tweaks — correcting overlooked issues with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. They will also keep an eye out for inconsistencies and formatting errors, as we have discussed above. The process is less collaborative with the writer, takes less time, and is focused on improving an otherwise finished piece of writing.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about proofreading and picked up some tips and tricks along the way. If you’re hoping to become a professional proofreader, good luck! Take a look at our other article for more writing insights. Or if you’d like a professional editor or proofreader to take a look at your copy, get in touch with the Zipcopi team to learn how we can help.