10 tips for copyediting

Is that text really ready to go to the designer?

You’ve been typing away, busily writing your report, leaflet or poster copy and you’re keen to send it on its way but is your text ready to go to the designer? Probably not! You’ll want the best end product so here are some simple tips to help you achieve this:

1: Take a break.

Set your text aside for a while after you’ve finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember what you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.

2: Take it one stage at a time.

Don’t rush yourself or try to do too much too quickly. Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation.

3: Double-check facts, figures, and proper names.

Get your facts straight, even if it means re-visiting your research. It’s not just about correct spelling and usage; make sure that all the information in your text is accurate. For example, don’t assume someone’s name is spelt the way you think it should be.

4: See your text in print.

By printing out your text, it’s easier to review it line by line and reading your work in a different format may help you catch errors that you previously missed.

5: Hear your text.

Read aloud or ask a friend to read it to you. You may hear a problem (for example, a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.

6: Make the most of spellcheck.

The spellcheck facility in your wordprocessing package can help you catch common errors, but don’t ever think it’s foolproof.

7: Trust your dictionary.

Your spellchecker can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, your dictionary can tell you.

8: Read your text backward.

Another way to catch spelling errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.

9: Create your own checklist.

You’ll soon see what type of mistakes you commonly make, so list them for future reference.

10: Ask for help.

Invite someone else to proofread your text after you have reviewed it. A new set of eyes may immediately spot errors that you’ve overlooked.

10 tips for checking proofs

Is that document really ready to go to print?

Whether you’ve been involved from the start or are new to a project, proofreading is more effective with a fresh pair of eyes and an open mind. Remember, you aren’t rewriting what’s already been agreed but making sure it’s accurate and correctly placed by the designer. Here are some tips to help with the process:

1: Before anything else, have a read through.

Read the entire document through once to get an overall feel for content and layout before you start to make changes.

2: Proofread at your own pace.

Take your time. Proofread the document in small chunks because your mind is likely to fill in the gaps and assume something’s right if the majority is. Check for punctuation and spelling irregularities, and remember your organisation style guide, i.e. organisation, instead of organization.

3: Double-check names.

These should have been checked before submission to the designer but you should never assume. Therefore check the spelling of all names, company names and locations; anything that’s not in the dictionary!

4: Double-check numbers.

Check all numbers carefully against original information (not just the supplied copy), especially where financial information is involved. Telephone numbers are different because there’s an easy way to check them; call the number!

5: Look for inconsistencies.

Check for consistent use of formatting such as capitalisation for abbreviations, acronyms and titles, and use of italics and bold for highlighting information. Also ensure the layout of times and dates follows your organisation guide (e.g. 16:00 or 4pm).

6: Don’t overlook the obvious.

Try proofreading headlines, subheads etc backwards; this will help you focus on the words instead of the meaning.

7: Graphics shouldn’t be forgotten either.

Check imagery is suitable for its context and sits well within the text and the page as a whole. Proofread captions and make sure they sit with the right photo.

8: Look at spacing.

Check for consistent spacing between sections of text such as headlines, subheads and body copy. Also, check that spacing is consistent within the paragraph—when compiling text from various sources there may be both double-spacing and some single-spacing.

9: Partner up.

If possible, have another person proofread so that you can resolve queries before going back to the designer. There’s nothing worse than getting amends that consist of question marks! More sets of amends mean more time and money.

10: Print out.

It is best to print your document and proofread a hard copy rather than relying on reading on-screen, even when proofreading Web pages. Although we try to be environmentally-friendly, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s easier to read accurately from hard copy.