The Impotence of Proofreading

October 21, 2014
The importance of editing in content marketing

I think I’ve spent more time editing than I have with my husband. Such is the lot of a person who dedicates her career to stamping out crappy content. In the rush to produce the content “they” say we have to, I worry that we’re skimping on making sure that content is correct.

Has this ever happened to you?

The inspiration for this article comes from Taylor Mali, a teacher and slam poet known for his grammar- and word-inspired poems. (Warning: Some NSFW language.)

Mali’s poem goes over-the-top, but the point holds true: proofreading is critical to creating successful content.

Why proofreading matters

Crappy content makes your business (and by extension, you) look crappy.

Visually pleasing, well-researched, grammatically correct content, on the other hand, indicates your professionalism and close attention to detail — not to mention your subject matter expertise.

Creating excellent content is one of the best ways you have to establish a trustworthy online reputation. Don’t blow it by not checking your work.

4 rules of proofreading

In his poem Mali lists two rules to keep in mind while proofreading — let’s break those down a little and throw in my favorites for good measure.

There is no substitute for careful editing

Drafting your content on a computer with spellcheck is a great way to catch the easy mistakes, but as noted in Mali’s poem, they’re not infallible. Double- and triple-check your content for repeated words, synonyms, and grammatical issues your computer can’t see.

Protip: Ask someone else to proofread your work. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can catch even after you’ve read through something multiple times.

The red pen is your friend

Another way to catch errors you might miss staring at your content on a screen is to print out your text and go through it “manually.” The new medium will give you a fresh perspective and help your brain spot issues you might not have before.

Put together a style guide

The purpose of a style guide is to help those writing content for your business to do so in a consistent way over time.

It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just an easily accessible document that provides rules like:

  • Whether or not to use the Oxford comma
  • Whether content should be in first or third person
  • Whether percentages should be 20% or 20 percent

This document makes it easy for you to keep your own writing consistent, and gives guest bloggers or freelancers creating content for you a guide to follow so that all your content is consistent.

It’s all about the reader

Wanna know a dirty secret about editing? Rules matter less than readability. If a grammatically incorrect sentence makes sense and clearly gets your point across to the reader, you can chuck any editing out the window.

This idea is sacrilegious to many editors — myself included — but it actually makes life easier. Instead of obsessing over semicolons and Should there be a comma here? all I have to do is ask, “Does this confuse the reader?” and let my intuition lead the way.

Resources for editors (and writers)

No matter how long you’ve been writing and editing, there’s always room for improvement. Here’s a few books I’ve found helpful in that process.

  • Writing That Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business (3rd edition, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson)
  • The Subversive Copy Editor; or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself (Carol Fisher Saller)
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications (3rd edition, Amy Einsohn)

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