Software

Five proofreading tips to ensure error-free Web content

Don't expect your customers to hand you clean content. These tried-and-true proofreading tips will minimize mistakes on your Web sites.

Nothing takes away more from online content like typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. Yet customers will often give you copy that's riddled with mistakes. Most likely, they expect you to make sure that it gets proofed before going online. Here are a few ways to handle that chore as quickly and effectively as possible.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Web Master blog.

1: Give it a little time

If you can, put the content away for a night or a day, then come back and read again. Fresh eyes always find errors. If you get strapped for time, at least try to take a short break -- even if it's just five minutes. You'll be more productive and likely to spot mistakes when you return to the work.

2: Read slowly -- and aloud

Take your time reading, and read every word. If you speed-read or skim the content, you'll miss the typical errors.

It's also helpful to read the piece out loud to yourself; the words sound different than when you read silently. In addition, reading aloud gives you the opportunity to role-play, allowing you to put yourself in the audience's frame of mind -- a change of perspective that enlightens you to options you might not see or hear otherwise.

3: Be systematic

Create a personal proofreading checklist; set up a list of the common errors you typically come across. Then use that list to systematically check your content.

4: Use a multi-layered approach

Scan the document several times, looking for specific errors with each pass. For example, one pass for spelling errors, another pass for grammar, once more for word usage, and again to verify accuracy (such as names, dates, and figures).

5: Don't count on the spell checker

Do use a spell checker, but don't rely on it to catch everything. Keep an eye out for misused homonyms, such as "to/too/two" and "there/their/they're". Here is a list of 100 common homonyms.

Other suggestions?

What other proofreading tips would you recommend? What's the worst content mistake you ever came across on a Web site?

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

6 comments
rgleason
rgleason

If you have the time, reading the material backwards allows you to catch spelling mishaps and edit the material from a different aspect.

MartyL
MartyL

Don't get me started on bad color combinations for text and background.

MartyL
MartyL

So does grammar. This isn't grade school, where the focus is, "Well, as long as we can tell what you mean..." This is your professional presentation of your service, your product and your skills. After you've been over your material three or four times and are convinced everything is ready to publish, get someone else to look at it. Just because you don't see anything that needs to be corrected, that doesn't mean nothing is wrong. Here's something that will help - in your abundant spare time (yes, I know): get and browse through a copy of an etymology of English phrases. First look for definitions and histories for "the whole nine yards" and "spyglass." There are other barometers of quality and thoroughness, but if those two are missing, go back to the shelf and consult a different publisher. Then, start with phrases and expressions you think you know and the meanings of the words that make them up. Given the chance, I will blue-pencil (anyone remember that one?) a few of my un-favorites: "hone in on," and "butt naked," just to start. Granted, you won't be tempted to use "butt naked" very often in professional web content, but you should know both phrases are mispronounced versions of the originals. Note that I do not say they are new versions with new meanings they are wrong (points awarded for why). Excusing the misuse of colloquial phraseology by saying, "everybody says it that way," or "everyone will know what I mean," is no excuse. Especially if you represent that one of your skills involves writing code if you can't tell when to use an apostrophe or can't discern the difference between Roberts' and Robert's, how does a potential client know you will be able to catch a missing bracket or misplaced semicolon? It matters; a compiler doesn't care what you mean and a customer does. Did anyone spot my missing comma?

MaSysAdmin
MaSysAdmin

Back in college (1990) when Word for Windows came out, a group of us were working on a business management case and we were going to expand our warehouse. One of our teammates ran the automatic spellcheck and suddenly we had the Biggest Whorehouse in Chicago. "Stacking" took on a whole new meaning.

LewSauder
LewSauder

Following these tactics is critical for credibility in front of the client. Sending typos and/or grammatical errors in any deliverable to a client - including emails - shows to them that you don't care enough to proof read what you send to them. It's not only annoying, it sometimes changes the message of what you are trying to say. Lew Sauder, Author, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting

ed
ed

Didn't catch a missing comma, but in the phrase, "...they are new versions with new meanings they are wrong..." I would have put a semicolon after "meanings." Or maybe I did: in "...that one of your skills involves writing code if you can't tell..." I would have put a comma after "code." Was the first one a test to see if someone would give you a comma splice?

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