Proofing Problems

Examining key proofreading areas and how to make the best impression with your copy

Image of a fountain pen being used to write on cream, lined paper.  Several lines of text are visible, and the pen has just written a full stop.

Proofreading is a bane for some and a joy for others. Whether you’re a grammar pedant or an accidental typo addict, proofreading can make all the difference to the polish of your work – and how good an impression it makes on the reader. If you choose to go it alone, or seek professional help, you can save yourself considerable time and money by bearing in mind a few simple tips and rules. Today we’re looking at the idea of consistency.

Consistency is one of those things – like all good proofing – that you don’t really notice until it is missing. It is perhaps most tricky to keep track of when you’re collating different texts written by numerous authors, such as for a magazine. If every writer chooses a different style, spelling, and so on, you’re going to have a rather messy end product. So try to think about some key concepts when putting together your copy.

Spelling

The most glaring area needing consistency is spelling. Make sure that you stick not only to the same spelling on a word-by-word basis, but also a rule-by-rule one, e.g. if you spell ‘colour’ the British way with ‘ou’, make sure that you are also spelling ‘honour’ that way. It is important to choose a spelling system that will be familiar to your audience. You may be an English writer, but if you’re targeting the US market, you should use American spelling (‘organize’ not ‘organise’ for example).

Style

There are almost endless questions to ask yourself when settling on a writing style guide. For instance, do you choose to capitalise shortened versions of proper nouns (does ‘The Bread Company’ become ‘the Company’ or ‘the company’ in future references)? Do you use ‘an’ or ‘a’ before words beginning with ‘H’ (e.g. are you ‘a historian’ or ‘an historian’)?

There are various style guides you can refer to, and it is tempting to abide by an official style guide, such as the Guardian’s (which is a good go-to for modern usage). Ultimately what matters is consistency within your own copy. Logically choose a set of guidelines and apply them strictly across all of your written material. Pick which works for you, and your audience.

One exception to this might be when using different channels. Social media requires a different tone to other publications, but the principle of consistency within channels should still be applied.

Design

Font and design is a key area for ensuring consistency. You may wish to personalise your work depending on which ‘voice’ it represents, but you should aim to settle on a single visual style for each publication type. Preferably there should be a sense of unity across your output. This can be a great way to tie together multi-level campaigns. If you’re creating direct marketing materials alongside an e-mail campaign, make sure to use the same fonts, colours and so on, to give each project a distinct and recognisable visual presence. In an age where brand guidelines are very strictly adhered to, readers have become used to this way of decoding visual material, and you should use this to your advantage.


Do you feel like you could use some help with your proofreading? Drop me a message to see how I might be able to assist with your latest project

Published by Helen

Feminist lifestyle and art history blogger making the leap from the dreaming spires of Oxford to marvelous Melbourne. Find me on twitter @helen_mccombie, and Instagram at nel_mccombie

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