Establishing a strong proofreading process is crucial, no matter what business you’re in. Clear, consistent communication is vital to establishing brand trust, effectively marketing your product, and protecting your business. For marketing copy in particular, it’s important for your organization to establish a process to ensure proofreading is taken seriously and done properly.
Here are some best practices to consider including in your proofreading processes guided by the Five Ws and H: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
Who: Have multiple proofreaders
Regardless of how your organization is structured, the following people should be included in the review process:
- Editing Professionals (multiple, if possible)—Let’s be clear: this is non-negotiable. Many people seem to think that as long as someone—anyone—reviews a piece, it’s good enough. It’s not. I aced math and own a calculator, but trust me when I say you don’t want me doing your taxes. The same principle applies here. Have someone trained for the task do the job; they have the necessary knowledge and tips and tricks to make the process run smoothly.
- Subject Matter Experts—Someone who knows the project well and would be able to tell if any of the facts are incorrect should review the piece for accuracy.
- Client/Branding Experts—Checking for tone, phrasing, colors, graphics, and other brand-identifying elements will ensure that the copy reads right and does its job effectively.
What: What should a proofreader be looking for?
Even though the individuals listed above will be paying extra attention to certain elements of your copy, they should be reviewing the entire document for the following:
- Format—Font, colors, margins, etc.
- Branding—Name spelling, tone, voice, etc.
- Mechanics—Spelling, grammar, readability, etc.
- Content accuracy—Numbers, facts, dates, etc.
Where: Where should proofreading be done?
Proofreading is meant to be done sitting in a well-lit area with limited distractions. Too often I’ve spotted people trying to proof something while standing or walking. When you do that, your brain is too focused on other things (like not running into anyone) to be able to do a good job proofreading. Set your brain up for the task by making it as easy as possible to read, review, and markup a document.
When: How often should proofreading occur?
Essentially, any time anyone touches the file or updates it with an edit—even if it’s as small as an extra space being deleted—the whole package should be proofread. After all, if you missed one error, you probably missed more. I strive to make the content so clean that at least two proofreaders are able to review it and have no edits.
The extent of your proofreading process will depend on the type of communication being proofread. Emails may only need to be reviewed by two or three people once each, while other communications will be reviewed under more scrutiny. This blog, for example, used the following process:
- Blog was written and proofread by the author
- Blog was proofread by three other people at IWCO Direct (the other members of the blog team)
- Blog was proofread by additional people at Strother Communications Group (who manage our blog for us)
- Blog was proofed again by the IWCO Direct blog team (four people)
For client marketing copy, we adhere to an even more robust proofreading process that involves a minimum of nine people from our team alone reviewing the piece around thirty times.
Why: A proofreading process is necessary for clean work
To establish a proofreading process is to say that quality means something to you; that you are willing to set aside time and resources to make sure things are done correctly. As a proofreader, it’s important to not compromise your high standards or skimp on the process, even when deadlines are tight and you’re getting pressure from your team or client. It’s all too easy to say, “It’s been proofed so many times, it’s probably fine,” or, “We can make that edit in the next round.” But that’s how mistakes are made—and nothing good ever came from either rushing a piece or pushing off until tomorrow what you can do today.
How: How do I know if my proofreading process is effective?
Besides the obvious answer—that no errors are reported by clients, prospects, or other outside sources—I’ve always felt that one of the ways you know your proofreading process is strong is if people start complaining about it.
Oftentimes, I’ll see co-workers get frustrated with how extensive and intense the proofreading process is. I understand—proofreading is a tedious and time-consuming process, and for someone who isn’t precise about language details, it can seem unnecessarily exhausting. But taking your time and being overly sensitive to every detail is how proofreading is done best, so these complaints simply mean you’re doing your job correctly.
If you need help establishing your own proofreading process, or if you’d like your work proofread by our team of experts, contact me today.
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