So much so that it’s easy for bloggers and web writers to abandon proofreading to work with a ‘publish now, fix errors later’ strategy.
But it’s not ideal. You can get away with this approach if your website/blog is small and you don’t get much traffic.
But bigger brands and businesses demand more attention to detail. They can’t afford to have poor spelling and wayward grammar ruining the impact of valuable content.
You can improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your content by understanding why mistakes creep in and why you don’t spot them. See if any of these sound familiar…
1. Not reducing familiarity with the content
Familiarity with content is one of the main reasons that people tend to miss errors. This familiarity means that, when you read through content again, you often see what you expect to see (and what you remember writing), rather than what is actually there on the page.
We’re poor proofreaders by default. Biology is to blame. As Francis Heylighen, a member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition group at the Free University of Brussels, explains:
“Whenever the brain receives some stimuli similar to stimuli it has experienced before, it will use its stored experience to ‘fill in’ or anticipate the further stimuli that are likely to follow.”
So if you use a word like ‘thoroughly’, there’s a chance you’ll continue to read it as ‘thoroughly’ even if you have misspelled it as ‘throughly’. Your brain expects the correct spelling and the error becomes easy to miss.
How do you combat this to improve proofreading accuracy? By making the familiar more unfamiliar. Try reformatting your content so that it reads differently.
- Read what you’ve written in a Preview pane, not the guts of your Content Management System (CMS)
- Cut and paste the text into a different software program, so that it flows in a new way
- Or increase/reduce the font so that the lines break in different places
By doing one of these simple things, you’ll force yourself to read the words differently and reduce your familiarity with them. You’ll catch more mistakes this way.
2. Trusting a spell check
How do you write your website content? Do you write straight into your content management system? Or type into another piece of software like Microsoft Word, OpenOffice or a more basic text editor? (For this post, I used the document editor in Google Drive).
Some of these programs will have spell checking functionality baked in and they can be useful at spotting misspelled words and wayward grammar.
But don’t trust them completely. Spell checkers usually don’t spot words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly. Here’s an example of some copy that the spell checker in Microsoft Word thinks is absolutely fine:
“I cut my knee earlier and hadn’t brought a 1st aid kid along. To be honest, my memory hasn’t been god over past few years as it used to be. Do you have 1 that I could burrow?”
It should read:
“I cut my knee earlier and haven’t brought a first aid kit along. To be honest, my memory hasn’t been as good over the past few years as it used to be. Do you have one that I could borrow?”
As you can see, It’s always a good idea to give your copy a read, a re-read and, if you have the time, a re-re-read before you publish it.
3. Assuming certain words are correct
When proofreading copy you should always assume that there are errors in it. Don’t skip across a fact, person, place name, phone number or website link without checking it.
Writers and bloggers can also make mistakes when they don’t know how to use words correctly. Here are three examples of words that often trip up content creators.
Your or You’re?
‘Your’ and ‘you’re’ are often misused in sentences and they can be easy to miss during a proofreading session, especially if you like to say the words aloud to yourself as you read. As far as language rules go, ‘your’ is possessive, indicating something that belongs to you – i.e ‘your hat’ or ‘your coat’. While ‘you’re’ is short for ‘you are’.
Its or It’s?
‘Its’ without an apostrophe is possessive – ‘its best interests’, ‘its key features’, and so on. Like ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’, ‘it’s’ is the shortened version of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.
I or me?
Is it ‘The King and I’? Or should it be ‘The King and Me’? Knowing whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ in a sentence can also be confusing. It’s not an embarrassing mistake if you get it wrong, but it’s good to know the rule. See if you can tell which one of the following sentences is correct.
- David wants to invite you and I to go on holiday with him
- David wants to invite you and me to go on holiday with him
‘I’ is generally used when it is the subject of the sentence; ‘me’ is used when it is the object of the sentence. So it’s the second sentence that is correct – ‘you and me’. Did you get it right? Here is an example of where ‘I’ works instead: ‘You and I should go on holiday with David’. The ‘I’ in this example is the subject, while David is the object.
4. Not reading the content out loud
There are many tips for better proofreading – reading the content backwards, printing it out, using a ruler under each line to reduce distraction, doing multiple read-throughs to search for different types of error, tapping each word as you check it…
They’re all good approaches and you should experiment with them to find which one works for you. But there’s often no substitute for reading your work out loud – or silently saying every word to yourself inside your head.
Why? Because doing so helps you get a feel for the rhythm and pace of the words – whether the sentences are too long, the punctuation is correct, even whether the words are spelled correctly, duplicated or missing.
You’re also forced to read the text slower because you need to say every word. The average adult can read pages of text at around 250 to 300 words per minute. Compare this to an average talking speed of 150 words per minute. It’s not rocket science – the slower you read, the greater the chance that you’ll spot any lingering mistakes.
5. Editing rather than proofreading
Finally, make sure that you split the editing and proofreading processes. Proofreading is a final error check, not an opportunity to rewrite the content. If you get bogged down with editing the text when you should be proofing it, you run the risk of adding extra errors as you work.
Then you’re back to square one.
Want to improve your proofreading? Don’t Trust Your Spell Check.