We’ve all done it: Copy edit something terribly before it gets to design. The designers make it fit perfectly on the page and send it back your way, only for you to mark it up because the copy is poorly edited. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Proofing and copy editing are different tasks, but in a field where people are expected to wear many hats, the two terms are conflated. Think of copy editing as the step before proofing.
Though often underpaid and undervalued, proofreaders are crucial to reputation and quality control. The New York Times recently laid off many copy editors and were criticized for the decision. Protest signs articulated the argument well: “Copy editors save our buts.” Every step cut leads to mistakes which put the reputation of a publication on trial.
If you’re proofing, check these go-tos before anything publishes
1. Check numbering
With the amount of listicles on the internet, there’s a fair amount of miscounting: 10 things has only 8; or 5 ways skips from 3 to 5 and forgets 4 entirely. If ‘Sesame Street’ taught us anything…
Numbering is one of those concrete things you can check. Here are a few other concrete things to check before you send off your work.
2. Checking formatting
Kerning and spacing and hard returns to make things fi… sometimes lines break funny. Be sure to check each line to make sure it breaks at a natural place rather than mid line.
Pay attention to the font. Copy-and-paste makes wonky font choices show up in the most unexpected places.
In addition, make sure all the headers within the article are formatted and written the same way. If they all start with a verb except for one, that one may look out of place. If they are all in Header 2 except for one, you’re not being clear about what you want the reader to do.
3. Read it aloud (with no contractions)
Though it’s a copy editor’s job to catch spelling and grammar mistakes, as a proofer, you’re the last eyes, so checking some of the parts your brain naturally fills in is crucial.
Read the piece out loud. Keep contractions in the text but instead of saying “It’s” out loud say “It is.” This way you’ll mentally account for the apostrophe. Same with “you’re” and “You are.” This way when you come across a misplaced apostrophe, you’ll notice it right away. As you do this, keep a look out for homonyms. Even expert writers and editors miss “to” and “too” and “their” and “there” sometimes.
4. Eliminate 10 percent
With so much online publishing these days, specific word count and “column inch” aren’t as important but for magazines and newspapers which have only a certain amount of space for an article, every single word matters. As a proofreader, you may be responsible for cutting text to make the writing fit the spot.
You can (almost) always eliminate 10 percent without changing the meaning. In fact, your editor might not even realize you took it out. Look for things like “In order to” — take out “in order.” Most the time you can eliminate the word “that.” If you’re working with a 100-word blurb, we’re talking about eliminating 10 words. You can do it.
For clean copy, hire freelancers on ClearVoice. But no matter how good the writer, don’t skimp on a proofreader.