Perfectionists Rejoice with These 5 Proofreading Tips
Imagine strolling into work on a Tuesday morning with the sun shining, birds singing cheerfully, and feeling like you’re on top of the world. As you strut on over to your desk, everyone begins to applaud you because last night you made history by single-handedly launching the company’s best email campaign of the year. As you open your inbox there’s proof you’ve hit the big leagues when a Google Alert tells you that your campaign is a worldwide trending topic. What an achievement!
Unfortunately, it’s not for any of the reasons you’d hoped. Like many others before you including marketers, journalists, and the 45th President of the United States, your stomach sinks when you realise the hard truth. One misspelt word turned your campaign into a viral joke.
Ok, so now what? It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only seconds to ruin it. You’re only human, but it’s turned your career-defining campaign into a rather embarrassing joke. So you have three options in this situation, you can be like Donald Trump and pretend #Covfefe is a real word. Or blame spellcheck for the ultimate betrayal. Or try blaming it on the new guy. Learning from others mistakes is always wise, so try these 5 proofreading tips to avoid suffering a similar fate again.
1. It Takes a Village
Being an army of one is a noble concept, but not always the most realistic. In case you hadn’t already figured this one out, it’s unbelievably difficult to be the ideas-person, the original author, and the only editor you’ll ever need. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but you need enough time to let it breathe for a day before you come back to return with fresh eyes. A second set of eyes is worth its weight in gold, so whether you ask a colleague with an eye for detail or hire an external editor, this step is essential to achieving publishable quality work.
2. Paint the Page Red
I learnt this little trick in university and believe me when I say it changed my life. After writing and reworking the same content five times over, every word starts to look the same. What happens here is a psychological trick where our brains fill in the gaps by understanding context. It means yuor barin can raed tihs, which is super cool, but totally unhelpful when it comes to proofreading. Try changing your text from black to red to trick your brain into thinking the content is new before giving it another go. Just remember to change it back before going pressing publish.
3. It’s a Game of Peek-A-Boo
If the red font isn’t floating your perfectionist boat, try playing peek-a-boo with your copy. Find an object to hold while you proofread, like a pen, a post-it note or even your phone. Start at the beginning and cover the second word with the object to force you to focus on each word individually. Blocking out what comes next makes your brain slow down, which allows you to flex your critical eye. I’m not going to lie, this trick takes a whole lotta time, so it might be wise to save this little gem for shorter blogs, press releases or social posts.
4. Begin at the End
Back when I was an English tutor, I would share this little tip and each time I received the same confused look. But it works every single time, so leave your scepticism at the door and give it a shot. Start at the end of your document and read the last sentence, then the second to last sentence, and so forth. By moving backwards through your document, your brain will be able to analyse each one individually, while also identifying any weaker sections of your copy.
5. Read it Aloud
This tip comes with a small disclaimer: people might think you’re a tad crazy. Try picking a quiet spot where you won’t be too distracted or do it at your desk and collect the sideways glances with pride. Read your document aloud as if you were presenting it to an audience. This is a great way to pick up on misplaced commas and full stops, as well as overused words and phrases. By involving other senses in your review process, you’re asking your brain to listen to see if it sounds right. If you love talking more than you love listening, it’s easy to see why this is a clear favourite.
When you’re working to almost impossible deadlines your main focus is usually getting the content out the door. But there is nothing more frustrating or distracting for the human reading your article then incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes. So, whether you’re publishing the next Harry Potter style novel, your company’s annual report, or a social post give it the love and attention it deserves.
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