Freddie Mercury and 12 Top Proof Reading Tips

When I think about the two million and more words I’ve written educationally and professionally in my lifetime, the words of Freddie Mercury sometimes spring to mind.

I’m talking about that bit which opens Queen’s “We Are The Champions” when Freddie sings:

“I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few

Yes, Freddie. Me too.

However, not as many with my writing now. As a copywriter, I’m of the school that believes things like correct spelling, punctuation and grammar are important when writing (and reading).

I can’t profess to be perfect and, as a professional, I also understand that sales and marketing copy doesn’t have to follow the Queen’s English.  Far from it.

But I do like to get things right.

That’s why I proofread.

And if you’re interested in standards and creating the right impression with your marketing, so should you.

So, if you’re a champion of successful copy here’s 12 Top Tips to help you Proof Read like a professional:

1. Let It Be

If time permits (and you should build in time for this) leave your copy for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll see what you’ve actually written instead of what you “thought” you’d written.

2. Read Your Copy Out Loud

The process of reading the words aloud forces your brain to pay a bit more attention to what’s on the page. You may hear the sound of a clunky sentence that flows poorly, notice a misspelt word you missed on silent reading, or realise there’s something missing.

3. Print and Peruse

Technology is a wonderful thing and reading text on screen can be less comfortable or easy than reading the printed page. If you find it helps, print out your text and take a look at it (marking changes you want to make with a pen or pencil as you go)

4. Use a Spellchecker (But With Caution!)

Your computer’s spellchecker can be useful for catching (and automatically correcting) repeated words, reversed letters and other common typing errors but use it with care. It’s NOT foolproof. It can be fooled by similar words spelt differently and make sure you check what language it’s using (US English or UK English, for example) otherwise you may end up with “color” when you mean “colour”, and vice versa.

5. Do the Double, Try the Treble

As a general rule you should double-check any facts, figures or proper names to ensure they are accurate. As you go through your copy on these “check” runs you may discover other things that need attention before you publish or send to your client. For a bigger safety net, do the treble-check.

6. Use Dictionary Corner

If you’re writing copy you should have a good quality dictionary on your bookshelf. You can use online dictionaries but do so with care. The book is likely to be the most accurate. In the UK, there are good dictionaries published by Chambers and Collins, or go for the definitive Oxford English Dictionary.

A dictionary tells you things that a spellchecker cannot. For example, a spellchecker will allow both “desert” and “dessert” as correct spellings and yet their meanings are very different. If you use “desert” to describe a chocolate pudding, for example, you might end up getting your just “desserts” (and maybe even be banished to the dictionary “desert” as punishment).

7. Read Eats, Shoots & Leaves

If you require a “punctuation repair kit” (as I think the Independent newspaper called it) and a fiercely entertaining guide to the correct use of English then buy, borrow or beg for a copy of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynn Truss. Every (copy)writer should read it at least once in their lifetime.

8. Focus on One Thing At A Time

Read your copy several times, looking at something different each time. For example, first time look at your structure and sentence/paragraph lengths, secondly look at the words and phrases you’ve used to find improvements, then your spelling and then perhaps your punctuation. This minimises the risk of you missing a silly mistake.

9. Use Reverse Gear

Another creative way to catch spelling errors is to read your copy backwards, from the last word at the bottom back to the first word at the top. This helps your mind to focus on the individual words and curb the tendency to skim-read sentences, particularly when tired or in a hurry to meet a deadline.

10. Personalise Your Proofreading

Create your very own proofreading checklist. When you notice there’s a mistake you make a few times then add it to the list. When you go through your next bit of copy, make sure to refer to this list so your common bloopers become consigned to history.

11. Ask For Help

It’s good for you to read through your copy again (and again) to make sure it’s accurate and is as compelling as it can be. Why not also ask someone else to take a look and proofread as well. Sometimes you can be “too close to the action” as a writer and a neutral pair of eyes may spot something you’ve overlooked.

12. Get Grammarly…

Finally, if you love words and love a bit of fun, it’s worth following Grammarly on Facebook. Plenty of posts with tips and guidance about correct spelling, punctuation and (funnily enough) grammar, all done with tremendous humour. Proofreading can be fun. Enjoy!

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