The death (or dearth) of proofreading
Lack of proofreading is especially prevalent on the Internet. I read a lot of blogs, and many of them are riddled with mistakes that could have been caught with careful proofreading. The following examples are from my last month’s reading. All are from business blogs by industrial companies and marketing pundits.Folks who should know better. (Red type and text in italics are my additions.)
- “The banquet gives Scouts a change (author probably meant ‘chance’) to network with professional, civic and business leaders who match their career aspirations.”
- “They (the) key thing to remember with SEO is all good things in moderation.”
- “For example, a post about this year’s Oscar nominations will become useless in a few months (months’) time.”
- “Mr. Fallon's topics often become a worldwide trending topic with (within or in) minutes.”
What’s the harm in a few errors, you ask. First, these errors can annoy readers. As mentioned above, mistakes may stop readers in their tracks. No writer wants that.
Second, errors reflect badly on the author. If you’re setting yourself up as the go-to expert on a subject, it’s best to look intelligent. If you’re a company selling a technical product, these errors can make you look careless and sloppy. Not a good look in either case.
The best thing you can do to avoid these errors (and looking stupid) is to hire an editor/proofreader. He/she can be on staff or freelance. If that’s not an option, here’s what I suggest:
1. Have someone else read what you write. 99.99% of people are really bad at proofing what they’ve written. Another set of eyes will see things the author can’t see. Best case is to find someone who knows grammar, spelling and punctuation.
2. Set it aside and read it later. If you can’t find a proofreading buddy, use time to your advantage. Write your piece and then let a day (or at least half a day) go by before you read it again. This helps you see your words with fresh eyes so you can catch mistakes.
3. Use spell-check, but don’t rely on it alone. If you look at the examples above you’ll see most might be caused by over-reliance on spell-check. A computer can help you get spelling right, but it doesn’t know you mean “chance” when you type “change.”
4. Work from hard copy (a printout) rather than reading the file on a screen. This makes it easier to mark mistakes for correction.
5. Read it out loud. You'll hear problems you may not see when reading to yourself.
6. Focus on one line at a time. Don’t skip ahead and miss errors.
7. Know yourself! What mistakes do you usually make? Use your computer’s search function to find those errors in your text. (For example, search “you” if use of your and you’re is an issue.)
8. Use a tool like Hemingway Editor to check your writing. This will help you clean things up by pointing out hard-to-read sentences, passive voice, overuse of adverbs and other writing sins.
(Some of these are tips from the University of Wisconsin. They focus on academic writing but a lot of the ideas are great for marketing writing, too.)
Look smart(er). Take the time to proofread.
Photo by Nic McPhee