A guide to editing and proofreading

A guide to editing and proofreading

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 14 September 2017

Start with general editing

First you want to make sure you have the right content, in the right order with the right tone of voice.  There’s no point looking for grammar errors before you have decided on the final placement of your sentences.

  • Read like a reader. Forget what you know and think about your buyer personas when you review copy. Does it answer their questions? Is there a story that flows from one point to the next? Does it include any company jargon that they might not understand?
  • Read it again. Read everything three times. Once, quickly, as a reader. Second, more slowly, looking for slip-ups or missing information. Then, third, from the end backwards to the start, looking at the detail such as typos and grammar.
  • Remember the brief. Remember what the piece was trying to achieve, who it is aimed at and so on to make sure you have achieved those goals.

Readability tools

Readers are increasingly impatient and overloaded with copy so even if you’re writing for a well-educated and literate audience, it makes sense to write copy that is intelligible to a wider range of people. Busy, smart people will thank you for making it easier to absorb what you are saying.

Readability metrics compare your copy mathematically against other known texts to give you feedback on its complexity and who might be able to read it. Typically, readability scores are given as a percentage or an education grade level. These systems don’t actually parse your text – they measure syllables, characters, words and sentences.

Besides the readability tools on this site, here other useful resources:

New call-to-action

Slim down obese copy

One of the easiest and best ways to improve your copy is to cut it down. Shorter, punchier copy is more readable and more memorable. So here's how to edit:

  • Zap filler text. Pious throat clearing can go – just get straight to the point and cut the run-up.
  • Cut paragraphs before you cut sentences. It’s better to change the structure of your piece by deleting low priority content than it is to try to make all your points but with fewer sentences.
  • Shorter sentences. Breaking down a long sentence into a series of short ones, sometimes even using the machine gun style to spit out a sequence of very short sentences, can make a paragraph much shorter.
  • Use ‘you’. It’s fine to address your reader directly. It’s also okay to say ‘I’ or ‘we’ to describe the person or company who’s speaking. This gets you out of a world of pain when struggling to find the subject of a sentence and avoid the passive voice
  • Give instructions. ‘Don’t run with scissors’ is shorter than ‘surveys by leading analysts suggest that velocity and cutting implements don’t mix.’
  • Write with information. If a sentence doesn’t include a fact or make a strong, clear point, it’s a candidate for deletion.

Get to the point

Finally, you want to proofread your copy with a fine toothcomb to eliminate any errors. The best way to make sure you cover all the bases is to have a proofreading checklist.

Our single-page cheat sheet (which is available to download) is divided into headings that cover different topics to focus on each time you read through your copy. We prioritise the following:

  • Readability
  • Consistency checks
  • Words to avoid
  • Headline tips
  • Grammar

And one last tip: be sure to check for any of the 10 writing mistakes that make you look unprofessional.

New call-to-action

See also: how to edit

Related service: Content