My proofreading checklist
Proofreading goes hand-in-hand with copywriting, so I offer proofreading services alongside my copywriting work. Like copywriting, proofreading requires close attention to detail and a level of pedantry above what might be considered normal for the general population, so it’s no wonder I enjoy it so much. Today I’m going to outline what kind of things I look out for when I brandish my metaphorical red pen. If you’d like me to proofread your copy – whether it’s a tagline or a whole book – do get in touch!
I think checking for typos is what most people think proofreading is; and it is, but it’s only one part of a proofreader’s job. I check for typos manually and never use spell check tools, because they don’t pick up everything. For example, if you’ve accidentally typed “form” instead of “from”, it’s still a word – just not the one you meant!
2. Spelling and grammar mistakes
As well as spelling mistakes, I look for errors in grammar, such as misplaced apostrophes, badly placed commas, confusion between semi-colons and colons, and so on. I look at every seemingly tiny detail; for instance, I’ll make sure the punctuation is on the correct side of the bracket or quotation mark. Unless the document is particularly informal, I’ll usually remove abbreviations such as “etc” or “e.g.”.
I check for consistent use of fonts, font sizes, bold/italics/underline, bullet points and headings. I also ensure that capitalisation is used correctly, whether in the use of title case in a heading or for proper nouns.
As well as providing feedback on spelling, grammar and formatting, I will make comments on the substance of the writing if I feel something needs to be pointed out. A good example is picking up when something needs to be explained, because the writer has assumed a bit too much knowledge on the part of the reader. That lack of explanation could be as simple as using an acronym without putting the full title in the first instance, or it could be a complex concept that readers might not necessarily understand.
I’ll draw attention to any passages that could be made more concise. If appropriate, I might even suggest an alternative wording.
If the copy repeats itself, either within a paragraph or within the document as a whole, I will highlight this in a comment and say where it’s been said before.
I’m always checking for consistency throughout a document, whether in the overall style or in smaller details. UK versus US English is one I pick up on a lot, but there are many more. Some words have more than one correct spelling, or there’s not yet a consensus on the ‘right’ way of spelling it – as with the much-publicised recent example of the word ‘internet’. Should it have a capital ‘I’? The important thing in matters like these is to choose one convention and make sure it’s used throughout.
8. Sense check
As a fresh pair of eyes, a proofreader is also a good person to conduct a general ‘sense check’ of a piece of writing. I look out for anything confusing, like contradictions or unanswered questions.
9. Adherence to brand guidelines
If you have a set of brand guidelines, I’ll highlight anything that isn’t consistent with what your guidelines have laid out as your house style, such as banned words, house spellings, active versus passive voice, and so on. Overall, I will be thinking about whether the writing sounds like the brand voice is supposed to sound.
10. Inappropriate language
Not just bad language, but words that aren’t appropriate for the target audience, such as a complex one where a simpler one would suffice. Jargon usually falls firmly into the ‘inappropriate language’ category for all but the most niche audiences.
Why hire a proofreader?
It goes without saying that copy littered with errors or inconsistencies reflects poorly on a company, and that a fresh pair of eyes can spot issues that you might not have noticed. Hiring a proofreader can also be a good compromise if you don’t have the budget for someone to write your copy from scratch, or if it’s copy that, for one reason or another, would simply be better coming from you (a heartfelt letter from a CEO to customers might be one example of this).