11 Proofreading Tips to Help You Produce Better Copy

How many times have you spotted a glaring typo or grammar error in the newspaper or at an online news outlet, only to get a good laugh out of it if the typo resulted in an unintentionally funny outcome? How many more times were you simply annoyed? How many times did you think perhaps it was time to change the channel through which you get your news because how could the news be reliable if it’s not even delivered in proper language?

The written word is even more relevant in the context of marketing where we are selling a product or a solution and buyers are trying to evaluate the quality of said product or solution by any means available. Encountering a single typo might lead them to believe that if not enough care was taken to present the product properly, perhaps the product itself is not so valuable after all.

Before any messaging employed in a marketing campaign—no matter how large or small—is sent out to the masses, it should undergo a thorough GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics) check to ensure that it is grammatically sound, free of typos and broken sentence structures and that it uses correct and consistent terminology.

This quality assurance (QA) process is your last line of defense to ensure your brand is presented in the best light possible. To help you avoid being the victim of an unfortunate error, here are eleven dos and don’ts to help you write and proofread better:

  1. Do not simply run a spell-check in your Word editor and wash your hands of the task. Unfortunately, if your typo happens to be an actual word, your machine will not pick up on it, leading to some rather mischievous mistakes. For example, the expression “pubic examination” would pass the spell-check test even if you really meant “public examination.”
  2. Do check for closely-sounding words that have vastly different meanings, such as “complimentary” and “complementary.” Interchanging these two words could mean that you end up offering something for free that you meant to charge for.
  3. Do not dismiss pesky distinctions between words like “farther” and “further.” Mistakes like these might not bother the majority of your audience, but if your buyers tend to be linguists, they may be put off by an incorrect use of a word.
  4. Do watch for agreement between subjects and verbs and avoid disagreement when the former is in singular and the latter in plural, or vice versa. Disagreement is most common in complex sentences. For example: “One out of five users agrees…OR agree?” Sometimes all it takes is to isolate the subject to arrive at the correct conclusion. In the example sentence, the subject is “one,” which is singular, so the verb should be the singular “agrees.”
  5. Do not misuse the possessive form. It can be difficult to remember the rules of when and where to add apostrophes and an extra “s,” so it is not surprising that this is an area where common errors occur. When in doubt, do some research to review the rules.
  6. Do focus on consistency and clarity when it comes to terminology. For example, when using compound terms, spell out the term first before using an acronym. Then, in subsequent occurrences, the acronym can be used alone.
  7. Do not breeze over your punctuation. Punctuation is one area that can truly show how much care has been given to a written piece. Haphazard commas or excessive use of exclamation marks may seem like a good idea if they mirror how you speak, but they can be distracting for others or even change the meaning of your message.
  8. Do use only one space after a period, comma, colon, semicolon, question mark, or an exclamation mark. The age of the typewriter is thankfully over and so is the double space after each sentence. This minor mistake dates the writer like nothing else.
  9. Do not confuse hyphens with dashes. They mean different things and should not be substituted for each other.
  10. Do hyphenate compound modifiers. Compound modifiers are phrases of two or more words which appear before a noun. They should always be hyphenated to ensure clarity. Without the hyphen, the words might be interpreted separately rather than as a phrase. For example: “A man-eating tiger is eventually hunted down to prevent further casualties.” On the other hand, “A man-eating tiger is a person with a questionable diet.”
  11. Do not forget to treat all headings and subheadings consistently. Use either title case or sentence case for capitalization depending on house style guides or brand preferences.

Ultimately, good writing is not only a matter of finding the right message for your audience and the right words with which to convey it, but also doing the legwork to ensure your message is clear, concise, consistent and error-free.

Now it’s your turn! Test your grammar skills using this 20-question online grammar test.