After recently reading an old document I thought to be quite
well-written, I was surprised to find the author of the piece was me.
Before I would distribute a document prior to 2000, there were all sorts of checks I would perform before anyone else would see it. Over time, those checks have been whittled away for various reasons, none of them particularly good. I've gone from offering restaurant-quality fare, to more of a McDonalds approach.
Spell check and grammar check tools
Back in the day, I despised these tools as I felt they made people lazy. I now use them regularly, but spelling and grammar checkers should only be one part of your copyediting and proofreading strategy - a starting point.
While writing this article, I've been distracted 4 times; so I know there will be errors. If I'm distracted 4 times while proofreading it, chances are many of those errors will
make it to the live version.
Read the piece back to yourself out loud
This can be particularly useful in picking up errors in relation to punctuation - e.g., a comma or a hyphen where one shouldn't be.
This is an absolute must; particularly for any marketing campaign content and sales copy. An expensive campaign could be in ruins if just one digit in a telephone number is incorrect or a 0 is missing from a price.
Remove superfluous text
I certainly agree a good writer is one who can clearly communicate a message in as few words as possible, but when it comes to copy for the web, explaining the same thing in different ways using different terms can be beneficial
at times; for example, attracting the attention of search engines.
Long sentences are something I'm particularly guilty of. I'll stretch out a sentence with commas, semi-colons and dashes. This can be a little exhausting for the reader, so it's best to break down longer sentences into two or three, without making it read in a stop-start fashion (which can be equally as annoying).
Print out the document
It's not a particularly earth-friendly practice, but printing out a document and reading the hard copy may reveal errors you may miss in the on-screen version.
Proofread different on-screen versions
I usually write articles in Notepad now, proofread that copy and then transfer
the text over into the template of whatever site I'm working on. The change in font and display "freshens" the article, making it easier to proofread a second (or third) time.
Block out past the current line
As the author of the article, we'll tend to jump ahead when reading it as we know what has been written. This is where the brain plays tricks, "seeing" words that should be there that aren't, or totally glossing over errors.
Know your weaknesses
Keep a list of common grammatical mistakes, typos and misspellings you make and refer to the list when proofreading. For example, a common one for me is the incorrect usage of "its" and "it's". I shudder when I see these words used incorrectly in someone else's work, so I'm damned if I know why I still make that mistake so often myself. However, knowing that I do means it's something I continually watch for.
Take a break
When writing for the web, we don't always have the luxury of letting a document sit for a day or two before publishing - often it needs to go up as soon as possible. Even closing the document for just 5 minutes, doing something else and then coming back to it can provide somewhat of a fresh view that may help pick up errors previously missed.
In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.
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In Loving Memory - Mignon Ann Bloch
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