When I was on a job-hunt couple of months ago, I had an interview scheduled with the National Creative Director of a reputed advertising agency. After three-quarters of an hour into the interview, she asked me,

“How good are you with your grammar?”

Not only did I grow nervous but was terribly baffled. What would be a suiting reply without sounding boastful or running the risk of losing the job?

I suggested she take a look at my portfolio and let that decide. She did as I said. She must have found it satisfactory for she had no errors to point out. Then she said,

“This isn’t about writing a novel or we wouldn’t be here. The clients we deal with tax us on every proofing error. Only recently, we ended up losing 15 lacs on a print campaign and if you’re thinking about the money, you couldn’t be more wrong. Our reputation is what suffers most.”

This much is true. Whatever business you may be associated with, if you are wordsmithing your way through the day, proofing is a skill you ought to be adept at.

Proofreading or proofing or copy-editing is very much like building the dam and then checking if there are leaks and then fixing them. We make sure there aren’t holes in our writing for quality to leak away. In my article, explaining what proofreading is, I had signed off on a note that I’d share a post on the elements to consider when you are proofreading or copy-editing your writing.

Now while there’s no standard checklist for proofreading, it wouldn’t harm to have one handy when you are writing. The two elementary categories you must channel your proofreading efforts into are:

  1. Text errors – Related to the language
  2. Non-text errors – Related to the formatting

So while we try our best to spot out those little devils that scamper and hide from our chase, here are some of the crucial elements to consider when you’re proofreading your work.

Grammar

There is a reason why this is the most important element of language; it makes or breaks the first impression. Be extra careful. Because no matter how much we hate to admit, we still find that ‘whose’ conveniently replaces ‘who’s’, ‘lose’ becomes ‘loose’, ‘to’ kicks out ‘too’, etc. As I love to say,

When in doubt, go Google.

Spell-check

Run your spellings through your critical eye. For longer ones, break them up. We are so used to chat slangs that they make way into our writing too. Check out if ‘what’ has become ‘wat’, and ‘where’ has become ‘ver’. Watch out for the commonly confused words like principal/principle, accept/except, etc. Need a quick tip?

Have a dictionary handy; there’s a reason it is the writer’s bible.

Voice

Whether that is copywriting or content writing, the voice of the language may differ depending upon the need. This is common especially with newsletters, advertisements, advertorials, scripts, etc. When you must change the voice from 1st person to 3rd and vice-versa, you must be able to identify.

Hyperlinks

Validate the links by testing them. Don’t follow instinct. Your eyes may miss a period or comma in the link that renders it broken. Trust me, nothing is as cringe-worthy as ERROR 404 NOT FOUND.

Sentence Construction

In my experience, nothing annoys the client more than a sentence running a paragraph. It does get tiresome, really. Try it sometime. Best is to break it down. Be harsh on the commas, semicolons, complex words, extra words, that make the text unfriendly. And most importantly, does it make sense when you read it? One and only mantra,

Keep it simple with short sentences.

Punctuation

These are the cruelest monsters. They play in plenty where not needed and disappear where needed. Keep the commas, semicolons, periods, exclamations, in check. Not every line can have more than 2 commas; unless you’re writing a novel. Nor can every sentence end in an exclamation; unless you’re laughing at your own jokes. And most importantly,

Do not use what you aren’t sure of.

Vocabulary

We love to throw in fancy words. But it does not always work. Keeping the language simple is a universal rule accepted by most of them who made it great in writing. But that does not mean you underplay or overplay the requirement of the copy/content. Use words that justify the purpose. Whether it is a creative ad or a corporate brochure, the choice of words would differ greatly accordingly.

Consistency

Make the writing look and read authentic by keeping consistent through out. Stick to either British or American English. Follow a pattern when it comes to capitalisation of headlines, acronyms, abbreviations, date and time formats, etc. It not only makes the work look systematic but shows your prowess too. Remember,

Good writing is a reflection of persistent consistency

Formatting

In ads, magazines, and other varied mediums where you have several elements to the writing, it is mandatory to run a quick eye through out the formatting too. Indentation, spacing, image positioning, font colour, style and size consistency, special treatments like underline, bold, etc. play a fundamental role in overall look and feel of your work.

Flow

Bravo! You have done it. Let’s take a final look, shall we? Does the overall flow seem to be in place? Are there any redundant words or phrases lurking around? Especially in script writing or novel writing, do the sequences seem to be in proper flow?

Finally what I do,

When I’m done proofreading a document,
I always get an extra pair of eyes to review it.

Dear writer,

Although the list may appear exhaustive at the outset, it will take you only 2 rounds of it to get accustomed to them (without having to consult this article).ย I promise you this. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sincerely yours,
A writer.

I hope to have covered most of the important elements of proofreading, but if you feel something’s escaped my attention, please share them in the comments below. And by the way, what did you think of the list?

In my next article, I aim to cover some tips on tackling writer’s block. Have an experience to share? Do write to me on themusingquill@mail.com. I’d love to include it in the article.

~~~~~

Asha Seth