Almost every copywriter will have faced this scenario. You’ve finished your draft after days (or weeks) of solid writing. The copy is HOT. You’ve read it a thousand times and you’re certain you’ve caught every last typo. You’re almost certain. You’re fairly certain. The truth is you don’t know anymore and you’re probably the last person to make that decision.
This week’s guest blog is brought to you by Desolie Page and the letter P.
I know I’m not telling you anything new: writing and editing are two different skills. Writing is creative; editing is analytical; they occur in opposite hemispheres of the brain.
That means you should not try to edit as you write. Just get the words down.
When the writing stage draws to end, it’s time to review, edit, proofread … whatever you want to call it. Here are my tips to help you correct, tidy, move and hone to turn your work into a work of art that will have your client saying, ‘Wow!’
Let’s start with a question. I’m sure you already know the answer, but I’ll ask it anyway.
Why should you bother proofreading?
Proofreading gives you the confidence that your writing is clear and sharp, and achieves its purpose.
Proofreading ensures that you’ve actually written what you meant to write.
Proofreading ensures your message / call to action is clearly expressed.
Give your brain some space
Once you’ve done all you feel you can with your copywriting, put your work to one side. Take up another task.
Don’t be like a terrier worrying over a bone. Just…don’t…think…about…it!
It’s important to give your amazing brain time and space to ‘think’, re-order, come up with better words or constructions—all without your conscious help.
If you find ideas popping into your thoughts, try to capture them. We’ve all experienced coming up with that perfect rewording, and then lost it because we didn’t record it.
Incorporate those new ideas into your writing, then get busy putting on your editor’s (or reader’s) hat.
So just what do you need to check?
Obviously, spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Have you spelt any unusual or technical words correctly and consistently?
- Have you used dashes, semicolons, colons, quote marks consistently?
- Have you punctuated lists consistently?
- Can you strengthen passive sentences? Keep an eye out for ‘there is’ – it often points to a passive construction.
I edit with spell- and grammar-check on—it at least alerts me to something I need to look at. I try to dismiss them all before returning the document to the writer.
Other language traps you should be on the look out for:
- phrases or sentences that sound awkward
- repetition of words in close proximity—e.g. investigate, investigation; owns his own business
- dangling phrases—Born two weeks ago, zookeepers feared Shuffles would not survive such a difficult start to life.
- saying the same thing twice—e.g. combine together, 5 pm in the afternoon, new innovations, free gift, added bonus
- waffle—unnecessary words that don’t contribute to the clarity of the writing or the argument
- parallel construction of headings and lists.
Then you can:
- Check all the formatting for consistency.
- Complete and update the table of contents, captions, cross-references, footnotes, etc.
- Review for a logical flow to the ‘story’ you’re telling. How about the links from one paragraph to the next, one section to the next?
Finally, check for the visual aspects.
How your copywriting looks is just as important as how well it reads.
- How does the text sit on the page?
- Is the document broken up into reader-friendly chunks?
- Have you used techniques like bold or colour to highlight key words or concepts?
- Could any of the information be presented as a table, graphic, image, footnote?
- Are tables, images, graphics appropriately placed within the text?
- Is there sufficient space between text and graphics?
- Is there enough white space: does the page look crowded?
Some tips on the ‘how’.
It’s all very well to know what you’re looking for but when your eyes are glazing over (and your brain is auto-correcting) it can be hard to see the edits you need to make.
Read out loud, especially those parts of your copywriting that don’t seem quite right. Using two senses can make all the difference to your confidence that you have actually written what you meant to write.
Read from a hard copy. Seeing your writing in a different environment often lets the typos jump out at you.
Ask a trusted colleague to review. If possible, ask someone who’s not been involved in the writing so that she can give an objective ‘outsider’ view.
Send your work to a professional editor or proofreader.
The most important question to answer
How easy will it be for my reader to read and understand what I’ve written? If you aren’t sure, find another colleague to read your copy and ask them to tell you what it is about.
Remember: small mistakes, such as misplaced apostrophes, can have a disproportionate effect on your readers’ impression of your work.