Proofreading in a hurry? How to avoid sloppy copy
December 22, 2020
When time is short this speedy checklist will ensure you present clean copy every time.
Text reading Proofreading in a hurry? How to avoid sloppy copy on overlay of a desk featuring a laptop, gold pen and pink flowers
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Proofreading your own copy is never easy. 

That’s because when you’ve written something yourself, your brain reads what it wants to see instead of what’s actually on the page. End result? Mistakes are easily missed.

But let me tell you a story about why proofreading is super important and what to focus on if you’re short on time. 

A hot day in December

Last year I found myself sitting in the uber-cool offices of a swanky London media agency. 

The person holding court was Kevin*, a tough-talking** brand manager who was lording it over a table of eager execs. 

So far so good. Except, in his haste, Kevin had forgotten one vital step – to proofread his presentation!

You see, as he waffled on, up popped a slide which should have explained that the company’s aim was to ‘encourage people to positively shift their perceptions.’ 

But wait… The letter ‘f’ was missing from the word shift. Think about it… there you go.

I looked at the person next to me and sniggered. And I then did the only sensible thing I could think of. I whipped out my phone and discreetly took a photo. I wish I had the guts to post it here… but I don’t.

The moral of the story? Whether you’re presenting a mega-bucks business pitch or bashing out a topical social media post, proofreading matters! 

Here are my top tips for what to check when you’re in a rush

#1 Headline / subject line

These are the places your reader’s eye is drawn first so mistakes will stick out.

#2 Subheadings

Designed to draw your reader through your work or presentation, readers will skim over chunks of copy and land here so make sure they make sense and are error-free.

#3 Missing letters 

As Kevin found to his cost, a single missing letter can make ALL the difference! Read each word slowly and out loud (if possible) to avoid this.

#4 Missing words

Just as troublesome as missing letters are missing words. An errant ‘not’ or ‘don’t’ will obviously completely change the context of your sentence.

#5 Typos

When you spot a typo or spelling error, assume the same mistake has been made all the way through your document. Pop it into ‘find and replace’ to correct the whole document in one go.

#6 US vs UK spellings

Most of us now use spell-checkers as standard but sometimes these digital helpers can throw curveballs into your copy e.g. color / colour, center / centre. Whichever you choose to go with (I’d always suggest UK for UK audiences obvs) make sure you’re consistent.

#7 Common typos 

When we type in a hurry, it’s easy to miss simple keyboard slips that change one word to another. E.g. form / from, major / mayor. Double-check.

#7 Homophones 

We all have homophones – words that sound the same but mean different things – that we struggle with. Make a note of the ones that cause you the most trouble!

e.g.

  • To (go to), too (you too / also) and two (the number)
  • There (go there), their (their belongings) and they’re (they are)
  • Whose (whose shoes are these?) and who’s (who is)
  • Your (are these your shoes?) and you’re (you are)
  • Here (a place) and hear (listen)

#8 Phone numbers & email addresses

This important info might be the difference between a new or lost customer so triple-check it’s correct. 

#9 Numbers and lists

Have you used numbers? Make sure you’ve used the same format all the way through e.g. 2k, 2000 or 2,000.

If you’ve included a bullet point list decide whether you will put full stops at the end of each line or not. Check to make sure you’re consistent. I’m a fan of no full stops (see list in #7).

#10 And finally…

I recently discovered the ‘Read aloud’ functionality in Word and love it. (You’ll find it in the Review tab). Despite the robotic tone, it’s great for picking up any last-minute typos, missed spelled or repeated words.

* Kevin’s name has been changed. And, just to prove I’m not totally evil, I did alert him to the error before he dashed off to give the same presentation to his Chief Marketing Officer.

** He used phrases like ‘spitballing’ and ‘cognitive dissonance.’ I know, right!


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