Proofreading tips to improve your copy

Proofreading tips

I’ve been hanging out in the late ‘90s since last October. Xena the Warrior Princess and her quest to fight for good has had me enthralled for six series. I was fully committed to that relationship – I couldn’t cheat on it with any other show. The Xena year has been dramatic, powerful, escapist fun. And I’d given so much time and emotion that the finale punched me right in the heart.

We watch different media for different reasons. The same way that we write for pleasure, education, to promote ourselves, or because your line manager needs that client report by 3pm tomorrow. Each reason comes with its own expense of input too.

Now the show’s finished, questions keep popping up – there are storylines and character queries to explore. I could just press play and re-watch them. But, right now, I can’t. I poured too much of myself into those 132 episodes.

So. Close.

You’ve typed the last full stop, re-read it to catch those inevitable typos and you’re so close to the relief of pressing send, publish or print. One click and you can take a breath then focus elsewhere. But your words are just as powerful as Xena’s mighty air-kicks and you want to be sure your audience won’t retreat.

Do you ever go back to content you’ve published or emails you’ve sent just for another look? You’re proud of your work and want to see it live or maybe you’ve not had the engagement or response you’d expected. Then you see it. A typo. Autocorrect may have taken control or it was a simple slip of the fingers. Perhaps the message isn’t a smooth as you thought – if only you could change that clunky phrasing.

You’d checked it thoroughly! But our brains like to make things easy for us. We unintentionally skim over what we think we've written and end up with the odd oversight. Sometimes it’s too late to charge in and conquer. So, instead? Be strategic in advance.

Here are 7 proofreading tactics to avoid a war with your writing:

1: Give yourself time

It’s not easy with the need for immediacy and deadlines, but time to return to it will give you the advantage of a different headspace.

2: Create distance

The quickest and easiest way to avoid the familiarity of your text is to ask someone else to take an objective look.

3: Print it out

I prefer a paperless office but reading paper does make it easier to spot those sneaky errors rather than on screen. Recycle!

4: Read each syllable individually

As the writer, you know what’s next. Read each syllable separately to stop yourself reading ahead. It can take some getting used to but it does the trick. It's how I proofread.

5: Read aloud

Speaking your copy is extremely useful for punctuation and flow. I do this when I need to copy-edit convoluted or lengthy sections of text. And yes, syllable by syllable.

6: Use software

Grammarly and other spelling and grammar software are handy tools to have, but don’t expect them to catch everything. They don’t always pick up on correctly typed words that are used incorrectly (think homophones 'look' and 'luck'). They might not account for UK English rules, the flexibility of language or our own writing style. Some offer premium versions at a cost too, so those free accounts won’t flag all the issues.

7: Don't forget fonts

These should be consistent so the text is easy to read and follow. Check you’re using the same styles, size and colours throughout.

New approach

I’m using the time tactic with Xena. I’m giving it a whole seven series before I go back – I’m on the rebound with Buffy.

If you don’t have the time to put these proofreading tips to use, then try out these ways to use your time more effectively. Or I can pause Buffy for you in a click.

Do you have your own proofreading techniques that you turn to (or know of any other good ‘90s box sets…)?