You’ve just finished a copywriting job where the words flowed brilliantly, ideas were non-stop and you fulfilled the brief in the most creative and exciting way possible.
Job done and time to put your feet up? Unfortunately not… it’s time to start proof reading.
Proof reading is the copywriter’s safety net, and when it’s done properly it’s the reason you can pass your copy over to a client safe in the knowledge that you’re providing a watertight document that doesn’t contain any nasty surprises.
If you don’t devote attention to careful proof reading then you’re running the risk of a sly little typo ruining all your good work. At best you’ve sullied your copy and at worst you might end up not getting paid for a job or turning off a client for good… none of which are great scenarios.
It can be difficult to get the time to go through several copy checking sessions as a lot of people (non-writers usually) don’t see it as an actual job. The simple fact is that it’s a job, just like the writing itself, and it demands due care and attention if it’s going to be done properly.
Switch your brain on when you’re copy checking, and don’t fall into the habit of skim reading, no matter how long it takes to get through. Skim reading (although a sometimes tempting option) usually means that you read what you want to read, or more accurately what you think you’ve written, which isn’t always what’s on the page. Often when you’re on a good roll and the copy is flowing some little typos might creep in, and if you’re still in the zone when re-reading there’s a fair chance you’ll miss them. If you’re tired, or you’ve been looking at the screen too long to really focus then do yourself a favour and don’t bother with copy checking at that point in time… (when words start moving and floating around I know it’s time for a break).
When you pass your final copy over to client, whether it’s for web, print or script, you need to be absolutely confident there’s nothing wrong with it.
I’ve been final checking copy on large form print work proofs with impending print-run numbers in the hundreds of thousands – with the designer standing over me jangling his car keys ready to take the documents to the printers – when I’ve spotted typos that had escaped my notice on every single previous proof-read session. I can also tell you from experience that an angry designer who has to make another copy change is far more preferable to deal with than a client who spots a typo on a big print run when it’s too late to do anything about it.
So what’s the best way to approach proof reading? Like most things it varies around your personal working style and the requirements of the copy task in hand, but certain things should remain constant;
• Do it at least four times. Really.
• Treat each proof reading session like it’s the first. There’s not a lot of point in doing one proper proof read then dashing off the next couple with the misapprehension that you’re actually checking it.
• Set aside a decent amount of time to proof read. If that means explaining the importance of the process to your boss then so be it. They’ll understand when you tell them it could be difference between getting paid for a job or not, or having a happy client that will come back for more work or an upset client who will tell everyone how bad you are. (If you’re your own boss then you won’t need me to tell you this…)
• Test any contact details. If you’re writing brochure, business card or website copy then you’ll likely be writing several phone numbers and email addresses. Ring them up and email them to see if they work. A ten second conversation in which you explain you were just checking is worth doing.
• Find a different place to proof read. Don’t do it at the desk where you did the copywriting as you’ll likely still be in the writing frame of mind. You need to become a reader, looking at the copy impartially as if for the first time.
• Print out your copy. Seeing the words on paper can help the process.
• Cut out distractions. If it’s not quiet, don’t bother.