Proofreading Confessions of an Imperfect Copywriter

Different methods for hunting and killing typos — plus how to be Zen when you inevitably miss one

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I write fast. It’s one of my superpowers. I’m not an especially fast typist. But, coming up with ideas and the structure for most of my client work is easy. I can knock out a polished 1,200-word piece in an hour. In one hour, I go from nothing to 1,200-words that I am proud to turn into my client.

But, because I work so fast, I generate a lot of typos. I have worked hard to eliminate my typos, but if you look through my work on this site you will find a few, I’m sure.

Clients don’t like typos. Early in my career, my sloppy final drafts were hampering my progress. I developed a tiered system to help me hunt down and kill the typos in my work. However, sometimes one still gets passed me.

The faster you can turn around work as a copywriter the more money you can make. But, you can’t turn in garbage filled with mistakes. Editing and proofreading are two separate processes. This article deals mostly with proofreading. Proofreading is about catching typos, fixing spelling and glaring grammatical errors. Editing is about improving readability, flow, and the structure of your work.

Here is the system I use to proofread my work.

Write Without Any Worries

I don’t stop and fix anything when I write the first draft. I have learned to ignore all of the red squiggly lines that fill the page. It’s important to keep the writing side of your brain and the editing side of your brain separate. First, you can’t get into a creative flow when you are constantly stopping to fix things. Second, you are not doing a good job of editing if you are also focused on finishing the piece.

Give your writing and your editing their own space. Focus on one at a time, and you will get better results out of both your writing and your editing.

First Round

I write in Microsoft Word. It’s what I grew up with. I’m comfortable with the program, I know many of the shortcuts, and most of my clients prefer to get files from me in the docx format.

Immediately after I finish writing an entire piece, I run the Word spelling and grammar checker. There are always plenty of spelling mistakes and typos. I make sure that I correct each one. I don’t mess with any sentence structure issues or flow issues at this point. It’s all about getting rid of the red squiggles.

Second Round

In addition to being a clumsy typist, I’m a poor speller. More often than I’d like to admit, I slaughter the spelling of a word so severely that the Word spell checker has no suggestions for how to fix my mistake. In these cases, I Google the correct spelling and copy and paste it in.

After I have run my document through Word, I copy and paste the entire thing into Google Docs. I run another spell check. I have found that Google and Word catch different things. Word is better at finding comma issues, and Google catches things like “form” when I meant “from” or “trail” and I meant “trial”.

If I am working on something that’s due more than 24-hours in the future, I stop here and take a break.

Ideally, you should let your draft sit for a day before doing more in-depth editing. In my world, I often don’t have that luxury.

Third Round

Next, I will run my work through Grammarly. I have the paid pro version. Grammarly isn’t perfect. But, it catches my comma splices and calls me out on my incomplete comparisons. It also will sometimes find a typo that Word and Google missed.

Grammarly also makes a lot of suggestions that make my work worse. You need to be careful with Grammarly because some of its suggestions result in tortured, hard to read prose.

Most of my work is also less formal than what Grammarly was designed for.

Fourth Round

I only use this step on long-form pieces where I’m not pressed for time. But, this is actually the most important step in making sure your writing is clear and interesting. I am using it more and more often as I am transitioning out of tight deadline work.

In this step you have your computer read it to you. If you have a Mac, you already have all the software you need. You can set it up by going to System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Speech.

However, I prefer to use Google. You can cut and paste your text into Google Translate and click the speech button.You should only have Google read a handful of paragraphs at a time.

Listening to your work helps you catch strange sentence patterns, repetitive phrases, and typos. If work is still interesting when read in a robot voice, you are on to something.

Because I’m so familiar with what I meant to write, it’s easier for me to hear mistakes than it is to read them. My brain often skips past mistakes. I see what I meant to write, not what I actually wrote.

Fifth Round and More

The last step is to read through your work yourself. Again, this works best if it has been a few days since you last worked on the piece. It gives your brain a chance to forget it. But, if you have tight deadlines, this is hard to do.

By now you should be looking for things like smooth transitions, a strong theme or thesis, and clear arguments.

If you are working on a long-form article or book, you may end up rewriting significant passages and then proofreading everything a few more times.

If I’m going to edit something I wrote, I only start editing after I have gone through all of the proofreading stages. This helps me to focus just on structural issues. By this point, I have also usually noticed things I can improve upon while doing all of the proofreading.

While I proofread everything I write, I don’t edit everything I write. I’m working on changing my workflow to allow me to have time to edit more, but when you’re making a living as a copywriter, speed is of the essence. This is one tradeoff I have made in my work. Your mileage may vary.

Finding Your Zen

If you are pedantic, and you faithfully follow all of these steps, I promise you will still occasionally have typos in your work.

I have even had editors accidentally add typos to my work. It happens. One of the reasons I love writing on the internet and self-publishing is that I can fix typos when I discover them. Honestly, I usually find out about typos because someone else points them out.

Typos are annoying, and a certain kind of reader will fixate on them. All you can do is do your best and make changes down the road as you can. If someone finds a typo in your work, don’t stress. Fix it and forget it.

If someone is rude about a single typo in your work, get a Voodoo doll and cause their toenails to grow unbearably long overnight, each night. It will make you feel better.

maria milojković here’s another piece about my copywriting process

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