Copyediting and proofreading each and every piece of content before it deploys to your audience is often an overlooked, yet necessary step in the writing process. Nevertheless, in the wise words of, yes, Ice Cube, it’s best to “check yo self before you wreck yo self” (or your brand).
There’s nothing like the feeling of submitting a piece of content to the printer only to get thousands of tangible copies in your hands with a noticeable flaw in spelling. Or, pushing send on an email with an error in the offer price or terms and conditions.
My heart just sunk while typing those real-life examples out.
You may be rushing to get a piece out the door. But, come on. Let’s be honest. It will save you a heck of a lot of time and money if you just take a breath. Edit. Edit again. And, even have other team members (or your spouse, parents, friends) serve as an extra set of eyes to speed up the review process. It’s an invaluable step that cannot be passed up.
So, what exactly do you need to look for when copyediting and proofreading any type of content for your business, from blog posts to social posts, e-mails, and more?
Read on below for a simple checklist to get you through and avoid getting a citation from the grammar police.
☐ Idiom fails.
Using idioms in your content can dress up your writing and add a human element to your brand. But, it’s best to avoid abusing nonsensical clichés—”selling like hotcakes,” “drink the Kool-Aid,” “the fact of the matter is,” “push the envelope” … you catch my drift.
And, if you decide to use an idiom, Google it. Consider multiple sources. Ensure you’re properly communicating them. For example, one of the most misspelled idioms is “piqued my interest.” I’ve seen it written as “peaked my interest.” Proceed with caution.
☐ Sentence structure.
Take your time and read through every sentence. Better yet, read them out loud. If you notice a sentence keeps running on and on, it’s probably a run-on, which features many thoughts before you finally reach the period. Thus, you’ll be able to break up that lengthy sentence into multiple sentences, allowing the reader to take a breath in between your messages.
☐ Verb tenses.
Make sure you don’t mix up verb tenses. Also, ensure each verb you use within a sentence agrees with one another regarding the tense you use—past, present, future, or conditional.
For example, this sentence features a verb tense error: When Jules walked into the dog park, the dogs bark at her.
Instead, the sentence should read: When Jules walked into the dog park, the dogs barked at her.
☐ Punctuation: commas, em-/en-dashes & quotation marks.
Commas: Did you place a comma after an introductory element? An example being, “Once summer arrives, I’m going to be at the beach every weekend.”
Additionally, did you include an Oxford comma when your sentence needed it most? Example: We have grapes, cheese and crackers, and prosciutto to pair with lots of wine. Note – the Oxford comma is the comma before “and prosciutto…” because cheese and crackers are a pair.* The use of an Oxford comma can be a brand preference, too.
*There are many, many, MANY more rules for commas. These are just a few errors I catch daily.
Em-/En-Dashes: When you’re writing content to be published, you’ll want to use an em-dash (—) to add emphasis or replace parentheses. Example: Jules loves two things—cuddling and Bark Box deliveries. I LOVE em-dashes.
And, unlike em-dashes, en-dashes (-) should only be used when connecting numbers or dates in a range. Example: June-August 2017. People tend to feel as if the en-dash is much more visually appealing. So, feel free to bend the rules when writing down-to-earth content (personal emails, etc.).
Quotation Marks: If there’s one thing you take away from reading this post, it should be that periods and commas go inside closing quotation marks. It pains me to see brands not getting this right. The only time punctuation goes outside closing quotation marks is when that punctuation is either a semicolon, colon, or dash. Question marks and exclamation points? Those stay with their own question or exclamation.
correct: I asked my husband, “Where should we travel to next?”
correct: I can never remember how to spell “millennium.”
incorrect: I always love belting out Beyoncé’s “Love On Top”.
☐ Unnecessary capitalization.
There are many pieces to the puzzle when checking your content for proper capitalization. Here are just a few common mistakes I’ve seen lately:
Directional words such as “north,” “south,” “east,” and “west” should not be capitalized unless they are used to describe a particular region (ex. Northern California). Additionally, if you’re explaining someone’s position at a company, you don’t capitalize that position unless it comes before the person’s name.
correct: We are so excited Chief Marketing Officer Alison Worthington will be speaking at the conference.
incorrect: Christine is an Account Coordinator.
correct: Christine is an account coordinator.
Let’s say you included a link to an extremely helpful resource to pair with your how-to blog post. But, a reader goes to click on it, and, uh-oh, the link is broken.
Check your links, and recheck them. And, I’m going to throw in an extra nugget of advice: always, always, always ensure you select the option to “Open link in a new tab” when adding a hyperlink.
Do you want readers to say sayonara to your post and be forced to hit the back button on their browser to return to your site? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
☐ Proof, then proof again.
Unfortunately, we can’t always rely on spell check to get the job done. It doesn’t always catch the misspellings of their/they’re/there or, affect/effect, lay/lie, your/you’re, its/it’s, and so on. So, proof, then proof again, to ensure you’re using specific words correctly.
☐ Tone & flow.
After you’ve made revisions, the best thing you can do to ensure your content is still coherent is to read it out loud. In doing so, you’ll catch words or phrases you don’t commonly use. But, maybe you felt it looked smart on the screen. You’ll also catch areas in need of a transition word or phrase.
Ultimately, be yourself and write in a tone that matches your brand’s voice. It’ll make your content that much more fun and easy to read!
Copyediting and proofreading is so much more than using a red pen to catch your grammar mistakes. It’s about ensuring your content is accurate and reads true to your brand. Add this checklist to your writing process, and you’ll be well on your way to offering error-free, easy reading to your audience.