How to proof a piece of writing


Every good copywriter understands the importance of proofing. One of the key problems you will face if you write your own copy is spotting mistakes. Even the best copywriters find it easier to see mistakes in someone else’s copy than they do in their own, which is why you should take special care if you don’t have a second eye to look over your copy.

What is proofing?

Proofing is checking over your completed copy for mistakes in spelling, grammar and consistency, as well as fact checking.

The process of copywriting is:

1. Do the research
2. Write the copy
3. Craft the copy until it reads well and gets the message across
4. Proof the copy

The importance of proofing

Proofing is important for online copy but it’s essential for anything that is going to be printed, as once you have 15,000 brochures sitting in the corner of your office, it’s too late to correct any mistakes without spending a lot of money and wasting a lot of paper.

Avoid being sued

Having worked as a national newspaper sub editor for eight years, I learned the importance of proofing and also the best way to do it. If we let a mistake through on the paper, it would potentially be seen by hundreds of thousands of people and the paper would have to print a correction the next day.

In the worse cases, if a sub fails to catch a factual mistake made by the writer, the paper could get sued. The same applies when you’re writing copy for your business – if you don’t check your facts and make a false claim about your products and services, or those of your competitors, you could find yourself in court.

How to proof a document

The first step is to do a print out, preferably in double-spaced type. This is because it’s much easier to spot a mistake on paper than it is on your screen. Next you should read through your document underlining anything that doesn’t make sense or any clumsy phrasing. Re-work those sections until they read better and print off your document again.

Common mistakes found in copy

Now read through your document looking for any of the following:

1. Spelling mistakes – remember a spell check won’t pick up an error if you’ve written “form” instead of “from”.
2. Grammatical errors – if in doubt, invest in a book on grammar or check online.
3. Punctuation errors – including missing full stops, quotation marks etc.
4. Errors with numbers – prices, phones numbers, dates.
5. Names spelled incorrectly – this is essential for people, but also for places and organisations.
6. Mixing up homophones – words that sound the same (there, their, they’re).
7. Inconsistency of style – if you have put book or film titles in italics, or job titles as upper case, have you done this all the way through? Have you written Second World War in one line and World War Two in another?

As you read through your document, look at each word in turn, slowly and carefully. If you go too quickly, your brain will correct mistakes and they won’t register as errors.

Mark your changes on the page and then make the corrections on screen. If you want to be really thorough, print off your document again for a final read through.

It’s always harder to proof work you have written yourself so why not team up with a friend or colleague and proof each others’ work.



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