Once electronic spell checkers and grammar checkers entered the scene, most people forgot how to proofread. But proofreading and editing are still important for two reasons: first, spell checkers and grammar checkers are terribly flawed; and second, proofreading and editing are about more than spelling and grammar.
A professional proofreader and editor will check for inconsistencies in format and content; for cross-references and links that go to the wrong place; and for failures of logic, gaps in information, or unanswered questions that readers might have. We are all prone to mistakes like telling the reader there are seven of something but listing six or eight. Once we have written and revised copy several times, we are likely to overlook missing words (especially pronouns) and even entire concepts because we expect them to be there.
As a professional proofreader and editor of technical and nontechnical websites, white papers, brochures, blogs, and other marketing collateral, I have found that the following steps are always important:
- Double check anything that is in bold, a larger font, italics, or other special formatting. Content mistakes are easy to overlook when format catches your eye.
- Try every link and cross-reference to make sure they are still valid.
- Match illustrations against the text. Inevitably, the bar graph will show a 15% increase and the text will refer to a 25% increase.
- Print out everything, even if the audience will always read it online. Mistakes will show up in the printed version that are easy to overlook online.
- Check all company, product, association and personal names; never assume they are correct.
- Create a style guide. Consistency is important on many levels, but certainly necessary to prevent confusion in the audience or coming across as oblivious to details.
- Forget about reading the entire text backwards to catch errors. That technique prevents you from catching “its” when you meant “it’s”; makes transitions, punctuation and format meaningless; and will bore you sick after 4 sentences.
Most important, by letting a professional proofreader or editor review your copy, whether it is in print or online, you gain the assurance that your message is not only written the way you want it but the way that your audience will understand. All too often, if we are very familiar with a topic ourselves, we write as if our audience was equally knowledgeable. For example, we might leave gaps in information–we know how we got from point A to point B, but our less knowledgeable customers become lost. Or we use acronyms or terms that are well-known to experts in the field but not necessarily to our customers. A professional proofreader or editor ensures that your words are reaching your audience in the way you intended.
Sharon Bailly founded TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to help companies communicate with their marketplace. Our words mean business.