It’s important to remember the distinction between editing and proofreading. Editing is the process that helps make your ideas clear and readable for your audience. Proofreading is the final polishing step you take to make sure there are no typos, misspellings, duplicate words or other errors that aren’t really content related. I browsed the websites of some local businesses and found these actual examples to demonstrate why proofreading is so important.
Our award traditional menu and attention to detail create a truly enjoyable dining experience.
We are proudly to introduce our very own grass-fed Beef delivered directly …
I selected these because the websites were fairly well-written otherwise. These were simple mistakes that everyone makes when they’ve been looking at the same piece for too long or they’re just in a hurry. It wasn’t the case that these people didn’t know how to write, which we will talk about in a minute. They just didn’t proofread well.
Here is the process I use for proofreading my work when I have finished editing. Because, again, editing is not the same as proofreading!
- Step One: Ignore spell check and grammar check. For now. Turn it off if you need to. We will come back to it. It’s not 100% reliable, and it’s best to use it as a tool, not a crutch. If you’re working on a longish piece (750 words or more) go ahead and work from a print-out rather than the computer screen.
- Step Two: Go through your piece and check spelling and use of punctuation. If you don’t know, look it up. There are things grammarians argue about that you don’t need to dwell on– but the basics are important.
- Step Three: Look for the specific kinds of errors that you are likely to make. For example, I have a tendency to add a “g” to the end of any word ending in “in”. So “trash bin” would be “trash bing.” If you have a tendency to misuse it’s and its, check for that.
- Step Four: Read your piece aloud. This is important in every step of the editing process, but it’s crazy important in proofreading. The errors in the examples above would have been caught immediately if read aloud. After we’ve gone over something so many times, our brain fills in blanks the way we imagine the piece and not the way it really is. Reading it aloud overrides that and we hear those errors. This is a non-negotiable step.
- Step Five: Turn your grammar and spell check back on. Right click on every squiggly line and evaluate the error and suggestion, but don’t automatically accept the suggestion. If you have a tendency to break the rules when you write, you may end up ignoring several of them.
That’s it for the proofreading. Your piece should be ready to publish!
Proofreading for Grammarphobes
When I was looking for my examples, I came across quite a few websites where it was obvious that the writer was not familiar with English grammar. Perhaps it was because they were not native English speakers, or perhaps it was because they never really learned English grammar. That doesn’t make them bad people or even bad at their business.
Here’s the thing, though. Grammar and spelling are conventions that help us communicate clearly with one another. When we misuse them, it distracts the reader and potentially turns them away. That was certainly not the goal of those writers.
If this is the case for you, my advice is to acknowledge this fact about yourself and act accordingly. Either hire a writer or editor, or spend some time learning grammar and spelling. If you don’t understand small business accounting you hire an accountant, don’t you? Why would you invest less into the way you present your business to your customers? Remember that what you write speaks about the attention you give to small details. Customers will pick up on that. For that reason it deserves your very best effort.
If you are like me and learned to type on an actual typewriter (IBM Selectric, holla!), then you also learned to put two spaces after every period. That is no longer standard practice. Word processing programs adjust the space after each sentence according to the font you use. So one space is now standard. But if you learned the two space rule, it’s a difficult habit to break.
If you do this, just do a find and replace during your proofreading process. Search for all double spaces, and replace them with a single space. Quick and easy!