Hands up if you’ve ever uttered, “How did I miss that?” Whether it was an email, a tweet or a press release, there’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling after noticing an error in your writing (especially when spotted approximately three seconds after pressing ‘send’).
The importance of editing and proofreading cannot be overstated. The most brilliant piece of written material can instantly lose its impact because of a comma-splice or typo. Multiple, seemingly innocuous errors can also call your credibility into question. Let’s be real: some workplaces may not have the luxury of having scrupulous editors on hand and even automated systems (spellcheck, Grammarly or the like) fail us from time to time. So, fellow writers, the onus is on us to protect our content (and egos) from unnecessary bruising. To help you out, our content team collected 8 editing and proofreading tips and tricks:
- Is your content ready? It’s amazing how many people will ask a colleague to edit their work but then cease the process because a new idea has suddenly popped into their mind. There’s no point in editing at a structural level if your thoughts have not yet been concretely organized on paper.
- Set aside time. When are mistakes most likely to happen? When you’re in a rush, of course. Editing and proofreading aren’t cursory tasks; you need time and focus to do them correctly. Deadlines are unavoidable but it’s paramount to budget for editing and proofreading time and make it part of your everyday writing process.
- Put it down. It might sound basic but, seriously, put it down. Don’t try to edit your work as soon as you’ve typed the last word. After writing, your brain is highly connected to what it just produced. Disconnect it. Move on to something else; grab a coffee, tackle another work project and re-visit your content later—preferably when you know you’ll be ‘fresh.’
- Slow down. Use a blank sheet of paper to cover up your work and read it out loud one line at a time. This will help control the pace at which you read and pump the brakes on your natural proclivity to skip ahead.
- Look for one type of problem at a time. Don’t overwhelm your brain. Check your work first for vocabulary, then again for grammar and again for spelling. Focus on one thing at a time to prevent yourself from losing focus. Once the editing process is done, proofread it to find any lingering errors. It’s important to make it a step-by-step process, otherwise you’re going to miss things.
- Read your content backward. Our brains have the ability to predict what comes next, which is why we can ‘skim’ information so easily. Unfortunately, this skill can work against us when editing and proofreading. To illustrate this point, see how you fare reading the following:
Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae.
It can seem tedious but reading your work backward is a sure-fire way to weed out typos. This activity removes all context from what you’re reading; obliging you to isolate and scrutinize each word.
- Get a second set of eyes. When it’s your own work, you already know what you’re trying to say. We highly recommend having at least one other person to read your work. For the best result, have one set of eyes for editing and another for proofreading. An extra tip: have your editing partner read your work back to you—you’ll hear exactly how it sounds and observe how they’re interpreting it, vital information that’s hard to get any other way.
- Identify your bad habits. Take notice of your mistakes and think critically about why you’re making them. Were you rushed? Overwhelmed? Daydreaming? Will one of the 7 steps listed above help you to address the problem?
It’s not always easy to edit or proofread your own work, but always put the effort in to become a better editor and proofreader. You will not only prevent those agonizing ‘facepalm’ moments but also instill confidence in your written work—and you as a professional.
Go on with your bad self and get ruthless. Protect the power of your words by ensuring they come across as your brain intended.
Discussion: What’s your most cringe-worthy proofreading gaffe? Tell us on Twitter: @forwardlevel #WorstTypoEver