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The Best Ways to Proofread and Edit Your Content

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
Goepps proofreading and editing

Do you have too many errors creeping into your content?

It’s a common but avoidable issue. As companies churn out more and more content across different media types, it’s easy to make mistakes.

The good news: Many more tools, processes, and procedures are available to help with editing and proofreading.

This article will explain what you need to know to ensure your content is 100 percent accurate, polished, and clear.


The Difference Between Proofreading and Editing

Editing and proofreading aren’t the same. And you can’t do the two things effectively at the same time.

Editing copy checks written material for factual, grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation errors. A copy editor may also rewrite copy to fix issues with transitions, wordiness, and the use of jargon. They also check that the style of the piece aligns with messaging guidelines. This changing and rewriting work is known as making revisions. Editing always happens before proofreading.

Proofreading is a final content review process that occurs after editing. Proofreaders double-check the content to catch any typographical or minor errors that weren’t fixed in the editing process or were created when the piece was published.

If you are an editor on some projects and a proofreader for others, don’t do the two processes simultaneously or one right after the other. Take a break. Clear your mind by doing something that’s not related to words. It will help prevent errors from slipping by you.

How to Edit Copy: Best Practices

Always take these steps when you edit copy:

  • Get briefed on the content, including its purpose, the audience it’s intended for, and brand guidelines. It’s a good idea to require content developers to include this information at the beginning of each piece they submit for editing. Create a simple form to help them do this.
  • Read through the content you’re editing as a reader would, with your hands off the keyboard except when you need to scroll. Doing this will keep you thinking like a reader and not a writer or editor during your first experience with the piece.
  • Go through the content again as an editor, with your hands on the keyboard, and note where the content doesn’t work well and why.
    • Is the opening exciting, and will it grab the attention of readers?
    • Are all the facts, figures, and other information in the piece clear, accurate, and properly sourced?
    • Is the content understandable?
    • Does the piece flow clearly and logically?
    • Do you find it compelling?
    • Does the piece properly reflect the brand?
  • Ensure facts are correct and everything is attributed correctly. If you have any doubts, do some research or check with the writer or a subject matter expert.
  • Check the math. If the piece includes references to numbers, ensure they are accurate and add up. This step is critical with percentages, which should never total more or less than one hundred percent.
  • Take a break, then begin editing. It’s wise to approach the editing process with a clear mind. You may identify issues you didn’t see the first time through.
  • Review content after you edit it. View it as a reader, not as an editor would. Ensure it will be clear and compelling to people in your target audience who may not be exactly like you.
  • Return content to the original writer for review if you change it. Taking this step will help ensure it still communicates information accurately. This is particularly important for technical content or material about challenging topics like medicine, law, finance, or engineering.

Tip: It’s a good idea to create an editing checklist. It helps ensure you’re doing a complete job if you have to check each step off a list.

How to Proofread: Best Practices

The best proofreaders go over content multiple times, checking for each of the following things:

  • Flow and understanding. The editing process should have resolved any issues, but that depends on the quality of the editing job. If, while proofreading, you find any flow or understanding issues, fix them. It can be a good idea to work with the editor on clarity problems.
  • Read each sentence for proper grammar. A grammar check is probably the most crucial aspect of proofreading. Nothing destroys the credibility of a piece more than lousy grammar, except for spelling snafus.
  • Check the spelling of each word. Read every word individually to ensure it’s spelled correctly. A good practice is to read words in reverse order to identify mistakes. With spell check, it’s easy for the wrong word to slip in now and then. Readers will often give up on pieces with misspellings. It shows the writer, editor, proofreader, and publisher don’t care about quality.
  • Check the content one last time after it’s published. Review the content to make sure it appears as intended. Look for inconsistencies and mistakes introduced during the publishing process.

Proofreaders should document errors they find more than once in a piece. Share them with the writer and editor to prevent them from happening again.

Finally, if your business only has a single person to handle editing and proofreading, develop production schedules that allow for editing and proofreading to take place on different days. You can also use tools like Grammarly to help in the editing and proofreading process. However, it’s crucial that you not use digital spelling and grammar checkers exclusively because they often miss mistakes and cannot catch factual errors. A human must do a final review.

The Final Word About Editing and Proofreading

Now that you know editing and proofreading are two distinctly different things, and you start treating them as separate steps in the content development process, you’ll be able to improve the quality and accuracy of your materials.

Make sure you edit and proofread everything your business creates, from social posts to white papers. After all, a factual error or typo on a social post can be more visible than in long-form content and cause significant harm to your brand.

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