Rule #1: Proofread: Every Article, Every Word, Every Sentence
Proofread your article; every single time!
Not only does proofreading keep the whole content creation and publishing process in the content team flowing smoothly, but the habit of proofreading your own work helps you become a better writer.
Proofreading seems like a pretty easy task. After all, you’re just giving your writing one more look-over, right?
Well, not quite. To be done well, proofreading takes a little more time and effort than a quick last read-through.
In fact, basic spelling and grammar is only the start.
Proofreading is about more than just finding errors; it’s about making sure all of your ducks are in a row and that tiny errors are caught.
1: Read your article OUT LOUD
When you read out loud, you’re not only seeing the words on the page, you’re also hearing them too.
Using speech and listening to yourself engages a different part of your brain.
Increasing the number of senses you have engaged with the text helps you hear it, as if it’s new.
Reading out loud what you’ve written will give you a sense of whether your sentence structure works, whether any words are out of place and whether you have redundancy or duplication that needs to be fixed.
Pro tip: Stand up while you read out loud.
2: Use a Text-To-Speech Program That Reads to You
Using a text to speech tool is an excellent way to pick up issues of word flow or awkward paragraphs you might not necessarily find when relying on just your eyes.
Search Google for “text-to-speech tool” and find a tool that will read your words out loud.
Try one of these:
The nice thing about the software is their stupidity – whatever you wrote, that’s exactly what they read.
If you have a word twice in a row, most humans will skip the repeat and never notice.
If you leave out a word, most humans will supply it and never notice.
3: Print It on Paper if You Can
This old-school tip not only gives your eyes a rest from staring at a screen all day but seeing your words on paper also carries the added bonus of making it easier to spot typos.
You can then markup any errors with a pen, and make changes to your article after you’ve finished checking.
You can also give the paper version of your article to a friend or family member, and ask them to use a red pen to highlight issues. Relying on someone’s inner-teacher will help you improve your work, and give them a feel-good buzz at the same time 🙂
4: Set Your Work Aside for a While
Obviously, the best way to get fresh eyes is to have some time away from your work. That way your brain gets the chance to forget the majority of what is written.
So, don’t edit everything you write immediately. Leave it alone.
If possible, set your work aside for at least a day, then read it to yourself with fresh eye. Be critical; fix anything new you find.
Rule #2: Use the Correct English Dictionary
We write for client in different geographic regions so we need to choose the most appropriate spelling for their region.
There are two English dictionaries that we use:
For British, Australian and New Zealand customers we use British English. E.g prioritise not prioritize.
For American customers we use American English spelling E.g. authorize not authorise.
In each Article Brief you will be told the dictionary that client prefers. If in doubt, use American English.
In Google Docs, make sure that your Spelling and Grammar settings are also set up correctly.
To set up your Google document’s Spelling and Grammar correctly, go to Tools > Spelling and Grammar and check ‘Show spelling suggestions‘ and ‘Show grammar suggestions‘.
Pro tip: Search your article for the letter ‘z’ and this will help you find errors quickly.
Rule #3: Check Brand & Product Name Spelling
Do you notice when someone misspells your name? I’ll bet you do.
Clients also notice if we misspell their business name and their product names.
- Does the client have a “The” at the beginning of their name?
- How do they capitalise the words in their name? E.g. CopySmiths or Copy Smiths or Copysmiths?
- Do they have spacebars between words? Or do they RunTogetherLikeThis?
- Is their name missing an s at the end? E.g. CopySmith or CopySmiths?
Obviously, it’s important to take note of a client’s key words in terms of their business name, product names, staff names, industry terminology and more.
Rule #4: Use Software to Check Grammar
Even though grammar checking tools are not 100% reliable, you should still use one. They are improving.
Make sure that any/all grammar flags are either false positives (i.e. not actually bad grammar) or are purposely breaking a grammar rule for effect (and BTW don’t do that too often).
Each of the below can be installed in Google Chrome browser or you can create a free account.
Rule #5: Learn Hyphen vs. em dash vs. en dash
Do not use spaces before and after dashes/hyphens.
Hyphen (-): use it only with compounds (e.g. self-esteem, word-of-mouth)
Em dash (—): use it on a sentence level (this is where most people use a hyphen, and they shouldn’t).
You can get an em dash by holding alt and typing 0151 (US and UK keyboards). You can also insert it from the Word symbols list.
I opened the door and there she stood—my long lost sister.
The new nurse—who was wearing the same purple scrubs as the old nurse—entered the room with a tray of Jello.
I opened the door and there she stood – my long lost sister.
The new nurse – who was wearing the same purple scrubs as the old nurse – entered the room with a tray of Jello.
En dash (–): use it when you have a from/to structure. E.g. Monday–Friday, 9 am–5 pm.
Hold alt and type 0150 or insert it from the symbols menu.
How to Edit Google Doc Shortcuts
Another way to use em and en dash: go to Google Doc Preferences and type in characters that you want Google to automatically turn into these dashes.
You can copy the dashes from this guide and paste them into the right column.
Punctuation and Grammar Proofreading Checklist
- Missing punctuation: Look for full stops at paragraph ends; commas after an introductory clause (‘Since we launched in 1995,’); unclosed parentheses (brackets and hyphens) and quotation marks. Make sure you’ve included full stops after a measurement (ie 5 ft. x 7 ft. and not 5 ft x 7 ft).
- Too many commas: They only need using when joining individual clauses or to separate items in a list.
- Comma splices: this happens when you join two sentences together with a comma instead of a semicolon. E.g. ‘Comma splices are unnecessary; a semicolon can join two short sentences.’
- Colons vs semicolons: A colon adds emphasis to the second part of a sentence: like this. Or it introduces a list of items, such as: ‘the core modules on the masters programme include: xx; xxx; xxxx’. A semicolon joins two short sentences or separates out multiple lengthy items in a list (as in the previous example).
- Incorrect usage of hyphens, em-dashes and en-dashes: Hyphens join compound words, em-dashes separate out parts of a sentence, and en-dashes denote ranges. Here’s a quick guide.
- Not hyphenating compound modifiers: For example, ‘well-deserved success’, ‘high-quality cuisine’. (They only need hyphenating before a noun, not if they come after.)
- Irregular capitalisation: The start of all sentences and names require a capital letter. But beware, many modern company names may not start with an initial capital, so if in doubt, always double check.
Word Choice and Syntax Proofreading Checklist
- Inconsistent use of tense: Do you start in the present and end up in the past?
- Modifiers separated from their nouns: For example, ‘I chose the green child’s bike’. (‘Green’ should modify the ‘bike’, not the ‘child’.)
- Incorrect parallelisms: Where the form of a number of items in a list isn’t coherent. For example, ‘Its various forms can soothe, inspire and invigorate, as well as creating feelings of nostalgia and joy.’
- Subject and verb disagreement: If your subject is a plural (i.e. denotes more than one), you’ll need to use a plural verb, and vice versa. For example, ‘I are going to the zoo’.
- Repetition of words: No one wants to read content that uses ‘quality’ in every sentence.
- Mismatching ‘between’/’and’, and ‘from’/’to’: For example, it should be ‘between ten and twenty people’, and ‘aged from one to two years’.
- Less vs fewer: Yes, that old chestnut. Here’s a guide on using less and fewer.
- Incorrect names: Check, re-check and triple-check names of companies, brands and individuals.
Active vs Passive Voice Proofreading Checklist
The active voice begins with a noun leading the action (the verb), rather than the other way around. It adds urgency and gives direction – something which is essential in copywriting.
Consider: ‘We set the gold standard for website design when we launched over a decade ago’. Rather than: ‘The gold standard in website design was set when we launched over a decade ago’.