Spelling errors and other mistakes can diminish your credibility and turn off potential customers, leading to costly customer service problems. Proofread everything you publish to ensure professional, organized content. This checklist covers strategies, tools, and tips for improving your proofreading accuracy and speed.
Double-check your spell checker
Spell checking utilities have been a standard word processing feature for years, and many users find them helpful. Still, avoid the tendency to rely too much on automated spell checking, especially when producing important business materials for the public. Three particular problems often foul up with spell checking software:
- New, foreign, and other unfamiliar words
The Internet generates new words and jargon every week, and most of them won't pass the spell checker regardless of whether they are correct. Don't just ignore them, check your spelling against Web sites, newspapers, and other sources that use these words. If you plan to use them often, add them to your computer's spell check function. (In Microsoft Word, right-click on the word and select
- False friends - right spelling for the wrong word
Visually proofread for incorrect words spelled correctly. For example, a simple error like typing "though" instead of "thought" will fool the spell checker, but not your audience.
- Words your spell checker can't see
Don't forget to proofread the text in your graphics and illustrations. Because images are eye-catching - that's probably why you've installed them - any blunders you make will attract a lot of attention.
Check grammar and usage
Grammar checking utilities, like the one in Word, are much less reliable than spell checkers, so be sure to proofread for grammatical errors, incorrect word choice, and other writing gaffes. Here are several online references for English grammar and language use:
- The Slot -- A Spot for Copy Editors
Tips, tools, and other resources for copy editors. A useful site for anyone striving after quality grammar, usage, and style in their writing.
- Kanten Communications International Writing Guide -- Questions and Answers for Writers
Do you have questions regarding correct grammar, usage, or writing style? This extensive index of writing questions and answers may help.
- University of Victoria Writer's Guide
Exhaustive guide to correct English grammar and usage. Includes recent updates on writing and citing for Internet materials.
Create and use a style guide
Some language problems don't have a single correct solution. How will you decide between e-commerce and ecommerce, or e-mail and email? These are easy decisions to make on the fly, but remembering your previous decisions can be more difficult. Your style guide doesn't need to be epic-length; often just two or three pages covering common language issues will help you maintain a professional writing style throughout your site. Here are a few links to more extensive style and editing manuals to build from:
- San Francisco State -- Editorial Style Manual
Useful overview of proper usage and style guidelines for staff, students, and faculty at San Francisco State University.
- Penn State -- Editorial Style Manual
Another student style guide, this time from Penn State. You can probably ignore their guidelines on formatting Ph.D. dissertations.
Review with your audience in mind
Think about your target audience; who would you like to reach with your content? Who else might be interested? Make sure your content meets two requirements:
- Reach those you want to reach
Are you using slang or technical jargon that might confuse your readers? Do you use any geographical or cultural references that might not be familiar? For example, not everyone would guess that "fifty bucks" means $50 (US). Choose words, images, and other communication devices that your audience will understand and accept. Be especially careful when handling religious and cultural issues.
- Prepare for unexpected visitors
Visitors other than your intended audience may find your content as well. Could this raise any problems? If your content is intended for adults, what might children experience? You don't need to avoid all controversy and offensive material, but make sure you've considered the possible consequences of what you publish.
Use four strategies to proofread your content
Sometimes one proofreading isn't enough. Here are four ways used by educators and editors to ferret out holes and flaws: You'll be surprised at how different reading situations highlight different problems.
- View your content the way your audience will view your content
In the case of web content, that means viewing your content inside a browser. Is the text readable? Too long to read on a monitor?
- Proof the old-fashioned way -- print a copy
Computers provide content creators with a variety of tools and shortcuts, but experienced editors still know that proofreading on a computer leads to more mistakes. Print a hard copy of your content and use a red pen to double-check your work.
- Read your writing aloud
Embarrassing? Find a quiet room. Research in education has demonstrated that reading a written piece out loud is an extremely effective way to catch "camouflaged" style errors -- repetitive word use, uneven flow, and confusing sentence structure. Reading your text aloud will not only help you check for mechanical errors, but will help you write with style.
- Read the page backwards
Start from the last word on the page and read backwards. This prevents your proofreading from becoming distracted by the content of the sentence.
Be an active editor
Don't scan or browse your work, get involved. Touch every word with the pen. Make a lot of comments, marks, and drawings, if necessary. Editing is an exercise in focus, so do what it takes to keep your focus on your content. You can find the most commonly used proofreading marks here:
Have two other people check everything again
It's almost inevitable that you'll become too focused on the project and too attached to the content to see your work the way your audience will. Recruit other proofreaders to bring fresh and different perspectives to the task. Remember two things:
- Make sure they can be honest with you
If you can't accept constructive criticism, your content will suffer. Decide which is more important: publishing good content or protecting your ego. If necessary, have them review your content out of your presence.
- Remember who is in charge
Not every critique is valid, and you can't please everyone all of the time. Take suggestions and comments with an open mind, but remember that ultimately editing decisions belong to you.
If you have time, put the project aside for a week
If you're not under a tight deadline, try putting the content away for a week. When you pick it up again, you'll have a more objective perspective and your ability to spot problems and mistakes will improve.
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