Proofing Your Own Copy

Always – and I cannot stress this enough – ALWAYS proof your copy before you post it online. You may not think that the odd typo here and there matters too much, but you really don’t want anything that might be off-putting to potential clients. Your copy cannot give them any excuses to go back to google and find somebody else.

Ideally you want to get a set of fresh eyes on it, be that a trusted friend or a professional proof-reader (and I promise I’m not just saying that because I offer a proof-reading service). When we read something that we’ve written ourselves, our brains know what we were trying to say and so, to save time, show us what ought to be on the page – and not necessarily what’s actually there. This is why it’s so very tricky to spot your own typos.

Realistically, however, getting an outside set of eyes on your copy isn’t always an option. So here are my top tips for those times when you simply have to go it alone.

Read aloud

This might sound silly (and also feel silly if you’re in a public place), but it forces your brain to process the text in a different way making it harder for it to do that time saving trick I mentioned above. By reading aloud, you have to focus on each word and are therefore more likely to spot any that are misspelt, misplaced, or missing in action.

This isn’t just a clever way of spotting typos, however. It also helps to ensure that your copy flows nicely for the reader. If you find yourself tripping up over a particular word, phrase, or sentence it’s a reasonable assumption that your prospective clients will too, so you should think about replacing it with something easier to read.

Check your headings

When proofreading, most of us have the instinct to dive straight into the body of the text and ignore the headings, but there is nothing more obvious to anybody visiting your site for the first time than a glaring error written in large font at the top of the page. Never forget that a thundering typo in a newspaper headline has been known to become headline news itself – and you don’t want your site making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Keep it consistent

This goes for pretty much everything on your site, be it the use of capital letters in the headings to whether you use Oxford commas or not (personally I LOVE an Oxford comma).

Decide which grammatical conventions work best for your brand and check when proofing that you’ve stick to them throughout the text. If the bulk of your text is in the first person, make sure that it all is. If you’re writing in present tense, make sure everything’s in present tense.

Very occasionally, it will make sense to break with the convention you’ve decided on. Taking the B Double E website as an example, it fits with the brand for most of the text to be in the first person; however as Rob and Helen offer different services, for the sake of clarity it makes sense to switch to third person when talking about the services they each offer.

Should you find you need to do something similar with your copy, make sure to be very deliberate with it and keep any changes to the convention separate from the rest of the text – never muddle different tenses or perspectives together in the same paragraph if you can possibly avoid it.

Don’t try to catch it all in one go…

…because you won’t! You should always do at least three read throughs, each time looking to catch different errors.

A good rule of thumb is to:

  • First, do a general read through to sense check the text, make sure you’ve not missed out any important details, and not accidentally added any details that shouldn’t be there.
  • Second, do a read checking specifically for typos and missing words.
  • Third, check for grammatical errors and anything that interrupts the flow for the reader.

Naturally on each read through you’ll catch errors that you aren’t looking for and that’s absolutely fine – I often spot typos in my grammatical read that I’d completely missed during my typo read! The reason it’s good to target specific errors in different reads is simply to stop your brain getting overwhelmed by trying to spot everything all at once.

And finally…

Use your spellchecker!

Spellcheckers get a bad rep, and you should absolutely use your own judgement rather than relying on them entirely, but they are great for flagging up potential errors and can occasionally spot things that you’ve missed.

About Debs

Debs is a copywriter and voiceover and works with Helen on website copy. This is where you can find her online.

Twitter: @DeborahWardle
Facebook: @DebsWardleWriter

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