Ever picked up a magazine or scanned a website and noticed a misspelled word or grammar mistake? Errors on the printed page or the digital screen can impact a reader’s impression of a publication, brand or writer. So, how do you ensure your company’s proofing process is comprehensive enough to maintain your stellar corporate image? Parthenon editors Nancy Henderson and Katie Neal offer the following advice:
Use multiple eyes: A proofing process should always have new eyes at each stage. When you work with a piece of copy — writing and/or editing — and see it more than twice in a short period of time, then you start reading what you expect to read. Your eye skips right over a typo like ‘the’ spelled ‘teh’ because you know what is supposed to be there.
Style is important: Consistent style can make the difference between a high-quality piece and one that looks thrown together. Many publications use the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook as a guideline. But reading for style also means reviewing the visual elements of the piece. Check the formatting: Is the font right? Are subheads in sentence case rather than initial caps? Are there word breaks in headlines, captions, subheads? Are lists properly aligned? Is a story tag placed correctly, or is one missing?
Follow a process: There are many details to look over. A set process can help ensure that you cover all your bases. The Parthenon Proofing Process is below:
- Read for comprehension.
Does it make sense? Don’t rewrite a sentence just because you don’t like it, but if it stops you or seems unclear, see if there’s a quick fix. Many times, the solution is simply cutting a sentence in half, re-arranging it, or adding a word. Be careful that you don’t change the meaning or implication of the sentence.
- Read for spelling and punctuation.
If anything looks funny to you — even if you’re 99 percent sure it’s OK — take a second to look it up. A favorite copy-editing tip if you have time is to read a story backwards, which helps you separate the words from their context. Keep your eye out for the most common punctuation errors: misplaced or missing commas and hyphens.
- Read for design/visual errors.
Examples include: extra spaces, missing spaces, machine quotes (straight) instead of smart quotes (curly), really bad breaks, things that should be bold, periods at the end of captions that are complete sentences, extra periods, inconsistent size of dashes.
Don’t get drunk on the power of the red pen: Remember that in every round of changes, there’s a lot of opportunity to introduce errors. For that very reason, you should NOT be re-writing sentences on the third or fourth copy-edit. If they didn’t bother you the first couple reads, leave them be. It’s a prime opportunity for an eleventh-hour mistake. With that in mind, the number one rule of copy-editing is, “Never introduce an error.” It’s easy to get caught up in the process, and drunk on the power of the red pen. Remember, when proofing, your job is to fix, not screw it up.
Download a few of Katie Neal’s favorite proofing tips.