Five Ways a Proofreader Can Improve the Quality of Your Writing
A good proofreader can help you dial in your work in many ways--and they can do much more than just find spelling errors.
With so much written content on the internet—and more being published every day—there has never been a greater need for skilled proofreaders. Your company’s reputation is built in part on your website, email, and ad content. If you have sloppy or mistake-filled blog posts or email blasts, your potential customers will associate the poor quality of your writing with a poor-quality product or service—something you no doubt want to avoid at all costs!
A great solution to this problem is to hire a proofreader to review your content before publishing or hitting the send button. Here are five ways a proofreader can improve the quality of your writing and enhance your brand’s online reputation.
1. Eliminate unnecessary words for tighter prose.
When we’re writing, we often include extra words in our copy. This is due in part to the fact that over time, most writing has become more informal in nature. Especially in the US, people generally want to read things that are conversational in nature.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, one result is we all tend to use more words than we need to get our point across. But this can lead to looser prose that requires more work from the reader and in general tends to have worse quality.
A proofreader, however, can come in and clean up your prose. They can remove unnecessary words and phrases to tighten up the writing. For instance, many of us use the word that much more than we need. A simple proofreading exercise is to review your document and remove all of the unnecessary thats. As an example, “I was thinking that we should go to the park,” could be changed to “I was thinking we should go to the park.” This tightens up the text, helping the reader and making it look more polished, without any loss in meaning.
A quality proofreader can eliminate these and other extra words and phrases in your copy to both help the reader and ensure your message gets across in an efficient, polished manner.
2. Find and fix basic errors.
This, of course, is the basic job of a proofreader. Finding and fixing errors is the “you must be this tall to enter” sign for our industry. But with all of the tools and software available today, why would you hire a person to check for mistakes? Can’t Grammarly do the same thing for less time and money?
Unfortunately, no grammar- or spell-checker is perfect. Grammarly can help you find many mistakes, as can Microsoft’s or Google’s spelling and grammar checkers, but no tool is foolproof. Often you can run your text through multiple such programs and still find errors in the text. And issues like an extra space or a misused semicolon can be incredibly difficult to identify with software tools alone.
On top of that, no computer or tool can know what you meant to write. If you write “our product is complimentary” when you meant to write “our product is complementary,” Grammarly can’t help you out—and you’ll be giving away your product to boot! These kinds of mistakes require a human with strong vocabulary skills to sort out.
3. Catch inconsistencies in the text.
English, like virtually every spoken language, was not created in a lab somewhere. It evolved and grew as people used it. Because of its organic origin and continued growth, there are few ironclad rules. Rather, there are general rules, exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions!
For example, there are often multiple “right” ways to spell a word. Let’s say you are writing ad copy for your new business. Do you refer to your new venture as a startup or a start-up? Which is correct?
The answer is either choice is correct; they are both in the dictionary. But what’s not correct is to switch back and forth between the two terms. In these cases, you need to pick one way and stick to it.
A good proofreader will spot and address inconsistencies like this for you. Other examples might include variations like doughnut vs donut, grey vs gray, or flammable vs inflammable. Each of these choices is “correct,” and it’s all too easy to switch between them without realizing it.
4. Smooth out wording and flow.
Writing is a specialized skill. Not everyone has the ability to put their thoughts on paper in a way that is engaging and readable. And even if you do have this ability, creating good content takes time.
This is one area where an experienced proofreader can help—by cleaning up your content to sound and look polished. As mentioned, they can make suggestions about how to write a phrase using fewer words, thus tightening up your copy. They can also help you by finding a more precise term that flows better in the overall sentence (say, by substituting the more specific term top-quality for the general word good when referring to your company or service).
Another instance where a proofreader can help is addressing active vs passive sentences. Generally speaking, using the passive voice is frowned upon because 1) we don’t usually speak like this, and 2) it’s generally more unwieldy than using the active voice. But as the first two sentences of this paragraph indicate, using the passive voice isn’t always bad—you just need a balance. A proofreader can help ensure your balance of active vs passive voice is dialed in.
5. Provide a sanity check.
Most writers are too close to what they write to effectively edit their own work. When we try to edit our own copy, we almost always “see” what we think we wrote, rather than what we actually wrote. And to make matters worse, we often rely on our own assumptions without thinking about them—assumptions the reader may not share.
Good examples of this are acronyms and jargon. If you are a tech-industry veteran writing a blog post for your company’s website, it may not occur to you that not everyone knows what SaaS means (software as a service, if you were wondering). Or you may write a paragraph about the deepest intricacies of a network without realizing the article’s intended audience is tech newcomers.
A professional proofreader will help you by identifying words, sentences, or even paragraphs that just don’t make sense to an outside reader. They will also help your audience by defining acronyms, replacing insider jargon, and generally keeping the end reader in mind.
Reaching Out for Help
A solid proofreader can save you from damaging your business’s reputation with poorly written copy. They are your second set of eyes and a safety net to ensure mistakes and inconsistencies get weeded out before your content goes public.
We offer the best in proofreading, editing, and writing services, and we would love to work with you to make your content shine!
I am an editor and writer living in the Pacific Northwest.