The impotence of proofreading

I've had a few embarrassing proofreading incidents in my time!

The worst, a good few years ago, was when I offered to make some invitations for Hubbie's parents (he was only my boyfriend then, so I was out to impress!). It was their 40th wedding anniversary and they were inviting all their friends to a party in Shepton Mallet.

Only I thought it was spelt Shepton Mallett.

And I didn't think to check.

Only once my lovingly crafted invites had been sent out to half the residents of Shepton Mallet did anyone notice, and then it was too late.

Luckily, as families do, they all just took the mick a bit. More luckily, I had not yet told them I wanted to become a copywriter so the abuse was minimal. And as they pointed out, they should really have noticed anyway!

In a professional situation though, you can't just laugh a typo off, or blame your client for not noticing a misspelt word. One silly error could mean the difference between getting repeat business or a recommendation to others, and not.

Take that extra 5 minutes to check through one last time and save your all important reputation.

10 quick proofreading tips...For that final read through

Not that there can possibly be anything wrong or you would have noticed by now, right?

1. Take a break before you proofread

Make a cuppa, hoover the cat, stroke the carpet, do anything that will get your brain away from your writing for a few minutes. That way you will look at it afresh when you come back, and will be more likely to notice any problems.

2.  Print off your text to check through

Use a large font and extra line spaces. It is easier to read what you have written on paper, rather than a screen. And with lots of white space you will find that you see the words differently, and notice things you missed before.

3. Don't assume proofreading is easy

Proofreading is a skill, it is not simply glancing over the text and hoping the errors will leap out. Done properly it takes intense concentration, and the ability to see through the message and into the detail. 

4. If someone else is available to proofread for you, use them

It is particularly difficult to check your own writing as you will tend to read what you think you wrote. If someone you trust offers to read it through for you, take them up on it.

5. No amount of text is too small to need checking

My friend recently witnessed this in Bristol (she told the contractors as they were packing up to leave - needless to say they corrected it pretty quickly!):

Colston Hall proofreading error
Have you spotted it yet?

6. It's worth triple checking text that stands out

Titles, headers, and subject lines in emails are all key ones you MUST get right - any mistakes will be obvious.

I hate that feeling when someone replies to an email and I notice there's a typo in my original subject line. The longer the email conversation goes on, the more it annoys me.

7. Double check details

Addresses, phone numbers, and dates, for example, are all very easy to slip up on, and will usually be key pieces of information. Mistakes here could potentially be serious enough to lose your client business.

8. Proofread out loud

If you feel you are skating over bits, or getting a bit bogged down in complexities, read it out loud. You will be surprised how much more you notice, and you'll get some great feedback on the rhythm and flow of the sentences as well.

9. Keep a list of any words or phrases that you often get wrong

Give them a quick read through, and if you know you've used any in your writing, check them just that one final time.

10. Get in the habit of proofreading everything

From emails to friends, tweets, or even the scribbled note to the nursery staff asking if anyone can babysit on Saturday night, CHECK them. Pause, and read them through one last time before hitting send.

So, I will leave you with these words from Taylor Mali's poem (borrowed for the title of this blog):

"Do yourself a flavor and follow these two Pisces of advice:
One: There is no prostitute for careful editing.
And three: When it comes to proofreading,
The red penis your friend."

How do you make sure you end up with perfect copy? I'd love to hear your tips.

Check back to follow my progress on my #copywritingjourney.


  1. One thing I heard was useful when checking was reading backwards, as you're then only reading isolated words, rather than sentences. With the out the context, the brain can't auto-correct any issues.

    1. Reading backwards is definitely a really good idea - especially for long numbers like phone numbers etc...I think you need to find a combination of ideas that work for you and then go with them. Proofreading is one of those things that few people find enjoyable, but is well worth suffering!