Recently, I was reminded just how important copyediting and proofreading are. As a professional copyeditor for well over a decade, I’ve known how crucial the editing process is. However, the evidence can sometimes present itself in creepily humorous ways.
Sidenote 1: Copyediting and proofreading, as concisely explained by my colleague Carly Catt, are two separate processes. In short, copyediting is a more substantial content and grammar edit. Proofreading occurs as a final stage to catch any lingering errors.
Copyediting and Proofreading Are Important!
I re-released my online copyediting and proofreading course earlier this year. At that time, I recalled that I needed to review the captions automatically generated by Udemy. I honestly, and yes, naively, didn’t think it would be such a big deal … until I came across the following subtitle:
Al-Qaeda got into the van and drove away.
With this sentence, I was attempting to provide a quick example of the subject. That is, the subject is the person completing the action. I also wanted to ensure my references were culturally diverse. So I chose the lovely name Aleida for the woman who drives her van away.
Perhaps it’s a minivan that Aleida takes to pick up her kids at soccer practice. Or she just picked up her vehicle from the local mechanic before heading off to meet some friends for lunch. However, Al-Qaeda getting into a van presents a whole other picture!
Sidenote 2: Aleida seems to be a common name in Latin American cultures—Che Guevara’s eldest daughter is named Aleida. But it’s actually Dutch and German in origin, deriving from Adelaide.
Whether you are a self-proclaimed spelling enthusiast or a seemingly lost cause when it comes to grammar, you must make room for copyediting and proofreading as a final quality check.
Doing this will ensure that clients, colleagues, and, in my case, students, take you seriously. As a result, they keep coming back to hire or refer you or even buy or recommend your products.
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Spot the Typos (there are six)
However, even copyeditor’s are not immune to making mistakes in their own writing. Have you ever heard of Muphry’s Law? This old adage goes something like:
You could be waiting for an important call all day and then your battery dies just as your answering. You could be planning to bake the perfect birthday cake for your sweetheart when you realize you don’t have enough butter and the store just closed.
Or you could be writing a blog post about the impotrance of copyediting and proofreading and forget to do spell check before publishing.
If you are not a professional proofreader or copyeditor, I’d advise you to ask someone to take a final look at your writing before going pubic with it. (In fact, even professionals ask others to check there work!)
Chances are, and especially if you regularly post blogs or are publishing longer content or even a book, you’ll need to hire such a person and build that into your budget.
Sidenote 3: Let me know in the comments what typos you found.
But to keep down such costs should you be running a small operation, consider these 10 tips for copyediting and proofreading your own writing.
1. Wait at least a day before final proofreading.
If possible, don’t proofread the same day you’ve finished drafting your content. I always draft and edit my blog posts in WordPress about a week before publishing.
Letting the post sit alone for a while helps me move my brain on to other tasks. I can then come back to the content with fresh eyes. And that’s when I find errors that should have been glaringly obvious on my previous read!
In addition, proofread at a time of day when you’re most alert and observant. I have more brain power in the mornings, so I never do final proofreads in the afternoon. And I certainly do not proofread in the evening when all that’s on my mind is relaxation and decompression.
2. Identify problem areas you just can’t ever wrap your head around.
For example, I often see people using apostrophes where they are not needed or omitting them where they are. Indeed, many of my clients lament the concept of apostrophes as one they just can’t seem to grasp.
If you struggle with apostrophes or other grammar and punctuation issues, I would recommend joining a Facebook group for writing or editing. Then, when you come across a phrase or sentence you’re unsure of, copy it into a post there and ask what others would recommend.
You will find that many folks will be more than willing to not only provide the correct grammar but also explain why it’s correct. And voilà, a free and targeted grammar course to instantly up your copyediting and proofreading game!
3. Post a cheat sheet of grammar or spelling issues you always have trouble with.
For example, I have a tough time remembering the various tenses for lie vs. lay. When I see these, I refer to a chart by my desk like this one:
4. Change the look and feel of the content while copyediting and proofreading.
Seeing the content in a new way will help issues stand out better. Change the font, font size, line spacing, or all three. If you’re sending an email and have drafted it in Word, copy and paste it into your email client and send it to yourself. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find on the other end.
You could also put the whole thing on another platform. For example, if you’re writing web content, do final copyediting and proofreading in a new unpublished post online. Then preview it before publishing. Or you can copy it from Word into a Google Doc.
5. Read aloud one word at a time.
Reading aloud allows you to think about the content in a different way and make unclear writing more obvious. Take it a step further and imagine that you’re reading it to your high school English teacher. Or imagine that your managing editor, whom you may particularly respect, is reviewing it.
What kinds of errors do you think they’ll point out? Will they understand what you have written?
6. Check headings letter by letter while copyediting and proofreading.
You don’t want a typo in a heading. Read that last sentence again. Okay, I’ll write it again: You don’t want a typo in a heading.
However, for some horrible cosmic joke of a reason, headings notoriously attract errors. I think it’s because they are so easy to ignore when you’re the one writing as well as copyediting and proofreading the content.
But once that content is in front of a reader, headings are everything. They help the reader navigate the content and let them know if it’s worth reading. Often, readers will scan the headings first, and if they see a particularly egregious typo, to the back button they will go.
7. Check end punctuation.
It’s super easy to miss a period at the end of a paragraph. It’s also easy to use a question mark when you should be using a period. For me, a quick sweep of the ends of every paragraph and bullet point usually turns up some missing punctuation about 10% of the time.
8. Use spelling and grammar software while copyediting and proofreading.
Even as a professional editor, I still use software to catch issues I may have missed. And I especially use it for a long document I’ve been working on for several days or even weeks. Use the built-in tools in your word processing software and consider investing in an external program as well.
I use PerfectIt , which is very popular among copyeditors. Grammarly is another one gaining popularity, but it has its issues. With that said, you still need to have a basic understanding of grammar and spelling to use these tools.
Always check each suggestion the tools present and don’t just accept every recommendation. I would say about 50–75% of the time, I reject the software’s suggestions. But those other 25–50% have saved me the unpleasantness of an unhappy client or displeased reader.
9. When in doubt, look it up!
Look it up! Professional copyeditors live by this standard. It is rare for any of us to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every grammar, style, or obscure spelling rule.
Any time I have just a tiny minuscule of doubt about a word or phrase, I go to the relevant dictionary or style manual (usually online subscriptions) to double check. Much of the time, I’m just getting reassurance. However, I’ve also found out that my first instinct is not always the correct one.
10. Start and use a checklist of errors you make consistently.
For example, if you know you always swap “their” and “they’re,” add this issue to the checklist. Then, right before finalizing or publishing, do a global search of both terms to double check you spelled them correctly.
While copyediting and proofreading, add your most common issues as you notice them. And keep the list somewhere handy to refer to before finalizing your content for publishing. I have my list taped to the wall behind my computer screen so that I can just glance up quickly and efficiently.
I hope these tips on copyediting and proofreading have been as useful to you as they are to me. In fact, these tips make up a procedure I use with every editing, proofreading, writing, and design project I work on for clients or even myself!
If you find you’re consistently missing typos and struggling with grammar and readability, start with these tips to:
- get cleaner content,
- impress your audience, and
- encourage them to keep coming back for more!
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