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Quick Tip: Proofreading tricks for clean content

Don't expect your customers to hand you clean content. Here are some tried and true proofreading tips to keep mistakes from cropping up on your websites.

I cannot tell you how many times I have proofed, spell-checked, grammar-checked, and re-read my material on screen and then still found an offending error. Proofing your content also includes documents that you get from the customer, which gets more offending than you might imagine. Never assume that your customer checked and proofed their copy. Most likely, they expect you to make sure that it gets proofed before going online. Nothing takes away more from online content than typos, spelling, and grammar errors.

The tips for proofing your content before going to online production:

  • Always put the content away for a night or a day, then come back and read again; fresh eyes always find an error. You may not always have the opportunity due to time constraints, but when time allows this one works. If you get strapped for time, taking a shorter break -- even if just five minutes - makes you more productive when you return to the work.
  • Have someone else read the piece, and make sure you print out the document too; for some reason, errors become easier to see in print than on screen.
  • Read slowly, and read every word. Speed reading or skimming the content results in missing the typical errors.
  • Always proof your work in a quiet place. Reading in a loud office or with a blaring TV in the background, or proofing copy while running on the treadmill do not allow your full concentration and only provide distractions.
  • Use a spell checker, but don't always count on automatic spelling / grammar checkers to be the end all solutions. Make certain to search for typical homonyms (words that sound the same when you pronounce them but have different meanings), i.e. to/ too/ two or there/ their. Here is a list of 100 common homonyms.
  • Read the piece out loud to yourself; the words sound different than when you read silently. Reading aloud also gives you the opportunity to role-play, allowing you to put yourself in the audiences' frame of mind -- a change of perspective enlightens you to options you did not see or hear otherwise.
  • Read the content backwards to concentrate on the spelling of the words. Hard to do at first, but, like anything, with practice, the technique gets easier with repetition.
  • Read the content upside down to concentrate on the topology, again this is a skill that comes with practice.
  • Scan the document several times for specific errors with each pass, i.e., one pass for spelling errors, another pass for grammar, once more for word usage, and again for added spaces. Concentrate on one category of mistake at each pass.
  • Double-check that proper names have correct capitalizations.
  • Double-check the facts and figures to make sure the information is correct.
  • Create a personal proofreading checklist; set up a list of your typical and then use it as a way of systematically checking your content.
  • Use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you're reading, this allows your eyes and mind to focus on one line at a time and keeps you from skimming ahead of probable errors.
  • Avoid the passive voice in content, for example, these "to be" verbs: is, are, am, can be, has been, have been, had been, will be, should be, was, were, and would be.

Do you have any content proofing tips that I did not mention that you use for your web content?

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...

7 comments
douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

At a previous firm, and even still now, a good colleague and friend of mine authored some 175000 pages of end user how-to's and guides. He always gave me great writing tips and critique of my documents. An excellent tool is using the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word, on your own documents, but especially when proofing anothers. Being able to see the difference between what was written and what has changed always helps me to see the effect on the audience. Using the comments feature in Word Track Changes or Adobe Acrobat also offers the chance for propositions as to what something may mean, or a suggestion for something better, and it can all be tracked through versions of the document.

RBoudreaux
RBoudreaux

Actually, the sentence should have read: "??? Create a proofreading checklist, setting up a list of the typical mistakes you most likely make, and then using it as a way of systematically checking your content." I guess it was transposed in the editing.

RodD94
RodD94

I ran across this from a journalist - having the text read back to you can very quickly nail some typos and awkward sounding sentences. Lots of apps can do that now.

billy8b8
billy8b8

These are excellent tips, excellently presented. But do I spy an error? Is a word missing in this one? "Create a personal proofreading checklist; set up a list of your typical [?] and then use it as a way of systematically checking your content." Cheers, Bill

dogknees
dogknees

There needs to be another step. Always read the final copy on the site! You can proof a document as many times as you like, but if the wrong version ends up on the site it's all for nought. I was bitten by this yesterday.

Cyclopz
Cyclopz

I noticed this as well....was this a test?

Ryan Boudreaux
Ryan Boudreaux

I agree, and typically in my contract work all updates are first posted to a staging location where they are Q&A reviewed including spelling, grammar, accuracy of data, etc.

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