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Guide to proofreading and why you need it

Spelling and grammar errors could be losing you customers! Read on to understand what proofreading entails and why most businesses use it.

Close-up of the Bullring building, Birmingham to illustrate proofreading services

Why do you need a proofreader?

It’s all too easy to think of content creation as a solitary task, carried out from start to finish by a writer. In reality, a collaborative approach is vital when delivering high-quality copywriting. Behind any copy, from website marketing content to academic paper writing, there’s usually a team of editors and proofreaders working hard to provide the precision, clarity and accuracy that content requires. Producing a final piece that is polished, error-free and suitable for the target market is essential to the success of achieving your communications goals.

What is proofreading?

We are often asked what the difference is between editing and proofreading. Proofreading is usually scheduled after copy-editing, where the editor improves the flow, tone and consistency of a piece. Proofreading is the meticulous final step to perfect content and get it ready for publication. At the most basic level, proofreaders carry out a systematic and thorough review of text, graphics and figures, carefully correcting objective errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Strictly, proofreading happens after the layout stage, where the “proofs” are checked against the last version of the copy. However, proofreading can also take place before design, to minimise the number of amendments required at that final stage.

It’s a common misconception, however, that proofreading is simply a glorified spellcheck. With the rise of AI and automated editing tools, it’s easier (and more tempting) than ever to take shortcuts with your content. While there’s clearly an important role for such programs in the editorial process, there’s currently no substitute to the human eye for a final check. A lot of nuance can be missed without a new pair of (real) eyes looking over your work – and data used by large language models (LLMs) can quickly become outdated.

The human element and seeing the bigger picture are at the centre of proofreading. It’s a much more holistic process than checking content for spelling errors. Proofreaders have the unique opportunity to experience the final piece as a whole – and from a completely new perspective. Proofreaders interrogate the text from the point of view of a potential reader and bring intelligent insights to the editorial process.

And that, in essence, is the primary aim of proofreading: to produce final text that allows the reader to experience it without getting distracted by discrepancies or stumbling over syntax. Think of it as the final polish.

What does a proofreader do?

Having been bounced from author to editor, a piece of copy has typically seen many versions. Some proofreaders start with a complete read through, while others start at the last section and work backwards before doing a final reading. Any good proofreader will also use semi-automated checks to locate errors such as double spaces. Websters’ proofreaders are all trained to catch unwanted errors that may have slipped through the cracks and they know what to look out for when proofreading:

  • Linguistic accuracy: combing content for inaccuracies in language, such as spelling, punctuation or grammar.

  • Consistency: checking capitalisation, font and spacing to ensure everything is the right size and in the right place.

  • Localisation (or Localization): ensuring the target market variant (e.g. US, Indian or UK English) is implemented consistently.

  • Style and tone: having a fresh perspective on the text allows “the feel” of the writing to be examined, as well as the specific language. Like other editors, proofreaders keep the target audience and brief in mind at all times.

  • Layout and design: from finding broken hyperlinks to aligning text with images, proofreaders hone in on the smallest of issues – items that could result in a disproportionately large impact – to ensure your final piece functions as intended.

  • Fact-checking: questioning assumptions and assertions to ensure they’re factually accurate and not misleading.

Why is proofreading important?

Proofreading has many important benefits for your written communications. Here’s a quick rundown of our top five reasons why you need a proofreader:

  1. Improve the quality of your written work: reading a piece of written content with misused apostrophe’s, commas haphazardly, strewn across the page or splelling mistaeks can be very distracting. Your content is meant to engage, inform or intrigue but obvious errors will have the opposite effect. They divert the reader’s attention, resulting in a loss of connection with the text. Using precise language and grammar ensures your message is delivered loud and clear.

  2. Boost your integrity: the quality of your written work reflects the time, effort and, most importantly, the care put into it. It’s difficult to trust copy that’s dotted with errors, and readers are less likely to believe the publication is credible or legitimate. A proofreader’s job is to ensure the tapestry of text has no loose threads lying around, which may cause its purpose to unravel…

  3. Ensure you meet accessibility and publishing standards: how often have you been reading something only for text to disappear off the page or be too small to read? A final layout check, including cross-checking contents list, figures and references, by an experienced proofreader can elevate your writing, eliminate formatting inconsistencies and increase your chances of publication.

  4. Keep you out of trouble: “Are you sure that total is correct? It seems very high.” Proofreaders go the extra mile to uncover any remaining factual errors that will not only damage your brand’s reputation, but could potentially lead to legal action.

  5. SEO optimisation: did you know that some search engines favour well-written content and avoid promoting badly written texts? More reputable sources do better in search engine algorithms, so hiring a proofreader could help improve your online visibility.

Proofreading tips and tricks

  • Leave a good amount of time: high-quality proofreading should not be rushed. Build in enough time at the end of the project to create a faultless final piece.

  • Take time away from the text: spending time away from your desk revitalises your eye for detail, helps you to maintain exacting standards and keeps you engaged.

  • Create a list of repeated errors: if you notice that the same mistakes keep cropping up, keep a list of them to save you time and run a final check at the end.

  • Multi-screen: if you’re lucky enough to be set up with two screens, have the document you’re working on open on one and the document you’re comparing it with on the other.

  • Read backwards: read the text starting from the last paragraph and working towards the first. This helps you see it from a different perspective to spot objective errors.

Key takeaway

Proofreading is the final step in ensuring the quality, cohesion and comprehension of your content and copy. Investing in high-quality proofreading services strengthens your company's reputation and brand. Quality always pays in the long term.

Contact Websters to find out what we can do to support you editorially.

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