Checking it once, checking it twice: 18 tips for editing and proofreading
Great content is engaging, focussed and simple. It is delivered through the right channels, with the target audience in mind and not least of all, free from errors.
Below are our top tips for editing and proofreading to help make sure your content is the best it can be.
- Get your ideas on paper before you start writing. Try not to get caught up in grammar, punctuation and spelling to begin with, just get your story down and polish it later.
- Look for a logical flow of information and have your channel in mind when shaping the document. For example, if you’re writing for the web, put key points upfront to help readers find what they’re looking for. If you’re writing a speech, outline what you will be talking about to keep the audience engaged.
- Use internal and external style guides to ensure consistency in your tone and voice and correct use of ‘preferred terms’. The Australian Government Style Manual or DTA Content Guide can provide recommendations on formatting and use of language.
- Read your content with the intent of deleting unnecessary content or words. Can you remove sentences, phrases, paragraphs and words to tighten your message without losing essential information?
- Always use Plain English — big words rarely impress anyone. Simple and easy to understand content is a win for every reader and writer.
- Use ‘active’ over ‘passive’ voice, because it’s easier to understand and avoids unnecessary words. Not sure how to write in active voice? Active voice: you ate the apple vs passive voice: the apple was eaten by you.
Once you are happy with the content and flow, it’s time to focus on proofreading. To do this well, allocate time in your schedule — great proofreading needs fresh eyes and a clear mind.
- Take regular breaks to ensure you don’t miss any errors. Putting your work aside for a day or two or sleeping on it overnight will allow you to be more objective when reviewing.
- Proofread in a quiet space so you are not distracted. Turn off your emails, meeting alerts and put your phone on silent. Doing so will enable you to focus, giving the task the attention it deserves.
- Print your content to proofread it in hardcopy. The way we process information on a computer screen is completely different to reading a physical document.
- Focus on one issue at a time. Look for preferred terms in one read, then focus on punctuation or grammar. The order is up to you, but don’t try to do it all in one go.
- Reading your content aloud will highlight missing words, complicated sentences and incomplete ideas. If it’s hard to read out loud, then it’s likely to be hard to read too.
- Use the spelling and grammar checking tool in Word to pick up typos and errors. This tool will not pick up every error, so use it only as a first step.
- Make sure your changes are consistent. Check dashes, upper and lower case, names of services, positions and programs.
- Don’t forget to proof tables, diagrams, infographics, headings and captions — it’s easy to skip these. Remember to also check page numbers, diagrams and graphs.
- Don’t forget the ‘contents’ page — do numbers and headings line up?
- Check formatting. Are font and heading levels consistent? Are you applying a consistent style to dot points?
- Get another writer to check your work. They will give great insights into the actual content and pick up any errors you may have missed.
- Run a spell check over the document one last time before you publish and also check the readability of your document — aim for an age 9 reading level to ensure your writing can be understood by anyone.
And that’s it! By following this step-by-step guide, you’ll be on your way to delivering a perfectly edited and proofread piece of content in no time at all.
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