7 Creative Proofreading Tips To Transform Your Jaggedy Draft into a Polished Post

image of Antelope Canyon by Moyan Brenn

I don’t get it.

When you find an article that is helpful or empathetic to your situation, you want to comment on it and share it with your friends.

You probably do the same when you find an article that is offensive.

What do both of those scenarios have in common? You understand the message the writer intended to convey … or at least you think you do.

So chances are good that the writer proofread the piece with meticulous focus and a creative spirit.

Wait, creativity and proofreading can go together?

You better believe it. Here’s how …

Proofreading and creativity are not mutually exclusive

We take for granted that the blog posts we interact with or spread around online make sense to us. Even if we disagree with a blog post’s author or misconstrue his intentions, we have still comprehended the text well enough to form an opinion about it.

Articles we don’t finish reading or disregard quickly may be confusing and poorly structured — glaring errors are major turn-offs. We don’t take the writing seriously and we go elsewhere to gain knowledge.

Even though every detail of your writing needs to reinforce the authority you strive to establish with your content, I’ve heard many people say that proofreading is their least favorite part of writing.

When you write, you get to be creative and expressive; proofreading is boring and tedious.

Like most circumstances, however, your approach to proofreading shapes your results.

An activity is only as boring and tedious as you make it. You can easily turn proofreading into an important part of your creative process that also improves the quality and clarity of your writing.

Ready to turn your rough draft into a polished post that readers revere? Here are seven creative proofreading tips that help produce professional-quality writing.

1. Open with confidence

Do not hoard what seems good for a later place … something more will arise for later, something better. ~ Annie Dillard

In order to nail your opening, you need to paint a crisp picture for your reader.

As you proofread the beginning of your blog post, analyze your initial message and tone from a stranger’s point of view. If you didn’t write the words that introduce a reader to your work, would you be compelled to keep reading?

Communicate your most innovative thoughts promptly — while the reader has given you a chance to prove yourself.

2. Detach from your ego

Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip. ~ Elmore Leonard

Proofreading is a slow practice — painfully slow if you’re doing it right.

Rather than reading at a normal pace, you need to thoroughly scan each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph. Does every facet of your content support the surrounding text, as well as your main point?

When you take the time to assess your article’s clout, you’ll be able to spot the parts you need to cut out.

Don’t cling to excessive thoughts if they don’t fit.

3. Choose your words wisely.

Words are a lens to focus one’s mind. ~ Ayn Rand

There are words, and there are the right words.

When you finally produce the right words that match the vision in your mind, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” immediately plays on the soundtrack of your life.

Give yourself time to craft the final version of an article because choosing the right words is a process.

Word choice makes the difference between writing that is just okay and a persuasive work of art.

4. Correct language flaws

Half my life is an act of revision. ~ John Irving

Rough drafts are supposed to be messy.

There would never be a single piece of completed writing if implementing perfect grammar and usage were necessary the first time you flesh out ideas.

Language rules can be a bit stifling when you’re inspired to create, but when you proofread your content, it’s not just about you anymore.

To communicate effectively, revise convoluted phrases that confuse readers … because that’s all grammar is: a tool that enforces clarity.

5. Guide the reader carefully

Punctuation is to words as cartilage is to bone, permitting articulation and bearing stress. ~ John Lennard

Punctuation enhances the benefits of proper grammar by marking your words with pauses and subtle expressions that promote the flow of your text.

Highlight each punctuation mark in your writing, and evaluate if it complements the structure of the sentence and paragraph.

On the other hand, if your writing lacks punctuation, your article may benefit from inserting symbols that direct the reader and help organize your thoughts.

6. Compose with style

Style is the answer to everything — a fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing. ~ Charles Bukowski

If you write as you speak in order to convey your personality, you’ll end up with tangents, non-sequiturs, and consistency errors that are forgivable in speech but detrimental to your written communication.

Style is a set of guidelines that keep the language in your blog posts uniform and effortlessly comprehensible.

For example, a proper term, such as “Copyblogger,” needs to be written the same way throughout your text—not also as “CopyBlogger” or “copyblogger.”

7. Keep your eye on the prize

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. ~ William Faulkner

To reconcile discrepancies between the blog post you wanted to write and the blog post you actually wrote, write your content’s objective in 20 words or fewer in a separate document.

What’s the one main takeaway you want readers to learn from your writing?

Proofread from your target audience’s perspective with your objective in mind. Does each section help achieve it?

Stay flexible and reserve the right to change your draft.

Over to you …

You won’t stand out in your niche or increase your revenue by publishing online content that does not have a specific purpose.

And rough drafts need to be meticulously reviewed and adequately modified if you want your writing to make an impact.

What proofreading techniques do you use to help you ensure that your blog posts are clear, direct, and establish your authority?

Share in the comments below!

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Moyan Brenn (For more from this photographer, go to Earth in Colors.)

About the author

Stefanie Flaxman


Stefanie Flaxman is Manager of Editorial Standards for Copyblogger Media. Study her one-word updates on Twitter.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. These are great tips! I love proofreading and I do it as much as possible. Eventually I have to stop myself or I will edit the article away.

    I really focus on cutting out the time-wasting sentences and unrelated content.

    I really enjoyed the tip about opening with confidence. I am guilty of “saving the best for last” and that really won’t matter if they don’t read through to the “last”.

    • You make a great point, Kalen: knowing when to stop proofreading is definitely its own proofreading tip. While you want to be thorough, everyone reaches a point where the review becomes counter-productive. You end up correcting things you don’t need to correct. It’s all about balance. :-)

  2. Is the last paragraph supposed to say “niche” or “nice?” If that is a typo in an article on proofreading…oh the irony. :)

    I actually really like this article, though. Thanks for the tips! I bookmarked it in order to keep coming back and reviewing it.

    • We put that there just for you. :)

      • Haha, why thank you! I proofread for my job, and yesterday I found a rather large mistake in something that I had looked at several times. It already went to the printer, so I felt pretty bad about it. Seeing the tiny error in this post reminded me that everyone makes mistakes, even the pros, and you have to just let it go and move on!

        Anyway, thanks for your great work! I’ve learned so much from reading articles on this site.

        • It is a scientific fact that when you publish an article about proofreading, it will have one copy error no matter how many times you proofread it.

        • Bourt,

          It’s especially difficult for proofreaders to learn “let it go and move on” because we (proofreaders) tend to be such perfectionists! :-)

          I’ve learned to look at errors that do slip by as a reminder, or rather, evidence, of the importance of proofreading and having multiple people review a piece of writing. Drafts can always be improved.

          Thanks for reading!

  3. Great article Stefanie! I read somewhere that reading your article out loud is a great way to see mistakes. I do that a lot. It is really helpful.

    Also I find that I miss typos in a blog post when I don’t print it off. For whatever reason that makes it easier to spot them.
    Thanks!
    Chris

  4. I recently wrote a blog on this topic! I hearkened back to school days when we had to write a “two-page paper” broke every proofreading trick in the book to extend our writing. Today, as bloggers and content writers, we have the opposite problem–fit these two pages of content into 100 words! You hit upon my main trick which I summarize in a simple statement: Lose the words, save the message. After an edit I always make sure I have not lost any of the meaning for the audience. That’s the litmus test of a “correct” and “incorrect” edit.

  5. Catch yourself in writing cliches and try to re-write in a more creative fashion … nothing bugs me more than reading “…xxx is not to be missed!” in travel niche blogging. Thanks for the reminder that proofreading is more than just good grammar and spellchecking!

  6. Stefanie, thank you for your article.

    It is great when content is like a music. It lets reader both to get the information and enjoy the process of reading. The better a copy is written, the more chances a reader will be engaged with your ideas and follow you.

    But I think the importance of it depends on a target audience.

    For example, people with technical background (and corresponding state of mind) always put the content (core ideas, facts, data and so on) in front of the linguistic form (flow of the speech, comparisons, epithets, even grammatical mistakes etc).

    In many cases I find that a scheme or a graph (e.g. an on-page flowchart or a mind map) is much better than 30 pages of polished text copy).

    But anyway, I guess that a great cocktail made of rich data and masterpiece of writing can make wonders with readers’ minds.

    As regards your question regarding a proofreading technique, I appreciate logical consistency and the balance between dry data and wording fluff. From this perspective I really like your article.

  7. Thanks. This was really useful. I try if possible to write and print out articles a week before I post them. It’s interesting what jumps out of the page when you’ve had a mental break; it gives me a better idea from the perspective of a reader.

  8. Or “Copybooger.”

  9. Stefanie,

    Your message comes across loud and clear, and kudos for that.

    Many fall into the trap of confusing proofreading and editing – two very different exercises. Perhaps for simplicity’s sake, your article and 7 tips also merged the two. Recommendations 1, 2, 3 and 6 (at least!) refer clearly to editing, not proofreading.

    This summary sheet from the Writing Center at the Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does a pretty good job making the differences clear (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/editing-and-proofreading/).
    HTH,
    Patricia

    • Just so. All of these steps are important for good writing – but a minority of them are proofreading. If your proofreader makes changes to better present your point, your proofreader needs to be refreshed on what the task actually entails. (If only because editing while proofreading makes actual proofreading harder to do!)

      • A final round of “traditional” proofreading for glaring errors without heavy editing is a great habit to form before you publish.

        Thanks for the reminder, Breanne! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing, Patricia! That’s a helpful article if you want to know the difference between editing and proofreading!

      For this post, the “creative” proofreading tips are designed to help a writer improve his or her own draft so that it becomes effortlessly comprehensible and engaging. To serve this purpose, “proofreading” refers to a more general review of your work.

      As you point out, I have blurred the lines of traditional “editing” and “proofreading” a bit, but in my opinion, the bottom line is: does a certain technique help you refine your work and make it better? If your writing becomes more precise and effective, I don’t care if you call the process “editing,” “proofreading,” “Frank,” or “Sally.” :-D

  10. Hi Stefanie, here’s a little story – about how commenting and guest-blogging can work in more than one way.

    A couple of weeks ago you had left a comment on Copybooger – oops, Copyblogger. It struck a cord with me, so I looked your blog up and earmarked the url to become your customer.

    Then I lost the earmark. After searching for it everywhere (without success) I finally decided – today, no kiddin’ – to look for my proofreader/editorial consultant elsewhere.

    My son and grand-child spent the week here with me. The proofreading action item slipped in direct correlation to my grand-child’s boundless energy. You might wonder where this story is headed. So do I.

    I’m just back from accompanying my son and grand-son to the train station. The proofreading action item was still hanging over me – like an anvil on a thin thread. Returning to my ‘puter I find “7 Creative Proofreading Tips To Transform Your Jaggedy Draft into a Polished Post”.

    An must read – and, “Bingo!”, here you are again. I’ll send you my first order for proofreading/editorial c. in a minute or two.

    It all started with a comment on someone else’s post. Circum’s Dance – I love the place :-]

  11. Thanks for the great advice. I’ll definitely be taken these tips into mind when I next proofread my work. I tend to waffle, and get distracted from the main point at hand, so keeping my eye on the prize is definitely something I need to work at.

  12. Stephen Hendricks :

    I work as a technical writer and a songwriter. I’ve found that proofing and editing each writing form benefits the other.

    My Haiku hobby has improved both. It demands parsimony, organization, and creativity which can provide benefit for all types of writing. There’s always more than one way to say the same thing and singular or simple changes can make big differences in both meaning and effect.

    word utility
    copywritten for the close
    click that box right there

    :-)

  13. Thanks Stephanie for the proofreading tips! I’ve always been pretty good with grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. because I’ve just always loved it. I guess I always thought that’s what proofreading involved.

    I think I agree with Patricia that your article sort of covers editing and proofreading together. I think of editing as cutting out the unnecessary words and inserting the important ones, creating the “voice” of the article, of which #s 1, 2, 3 and 6 touch on.

    I also slightly disagree with #6 in that I think for some it’s perfectly fine to write as they speak. I think those that do this do, in fact, come across as unique and show their own personality. If done properly, they would eliminate the tangents and inconsistency errors you mentioned but retain their unique “voice”.

    Personally I’m not a very good speaker, inserting a lot of “ums”, talking too fast, getting lost searching for the right words. But I feel I write the same as I speak, only in writing I can remove all the above atrocities, still being myself but an edited edition of myself, if that makes any sense.

    Anyway, thanks for the tips. One thing I like and will always try to remember: “Proofread (and edit – my insertion) from your target audience’s perspective with your objective in mind.”

    • Karleen,

      I love this line from your comment: “If done properly, they would eliminate the tangents and inconsistency errors you mentioned but retain their unique ‘voice.’”

      Exactly!

      The best writing definitely has personality, but, just like you state, you need to cut out awkward or confusing phrases as much as possible.

  14. Nice proofreading tips!

    I liked the point no# 3 “Choose your words carefully”, because that is where the whole content and idea is based on!

    Thanks :)

  15. I re-read out loud Stefanie. Awesome tips!

    After finishing I might re-read out loud once or twice to nail down my post. One note; sometimes I go with the first draft ;) Not because I am in a hurry but because editing feels like I am watering down my voice.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. OMG, that was awesome Stefanie… and for most, language flaws are inevitable.

  17. Kay Pinkerton :

    Thanks for the article, Stefanie. When writing a piece, I always find it helpful to walk away from a draft. Taking a break enables the writer to discover previously unnoticed flaws or wordiness. It also helps the author “feel” the narrative – does it flow harmoniously or jerk uncomfortably? Finally, taking a break helps the writer recall additional information that would better enrich the story and inform the reader.

  18. Stefanie, I loved every bit of this article. Why? Because I love proofreading. And it is only through reading your post that I realized that I’m on the right track when I proofread. I do want to add another point though. I think that proofreaders should be unselfish writers, in a sense that they put the reader first all the time. I know writers who’d just say what they want they want to say. But at the end of the day, we write for the reader and they deserve a well-polished and well-thought of piece of writing.

  19. Amelie Hyams :

    Lots of great tips – in the post and in the comments. Thank you.

    I especially liked the quote you included from Elmore Leonard:
    “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

    It is such a great a reminder to write with the audience in mind. If I include only what they want to know and not add what I would like to say, my writing gets better. It’s what Ginny Reddish directs us to do in her book – Letting Go of the Words – but sometimes it’s hard to do. Words can be so enticing that it’s easy to lose focus. So go back and edit with the audience in mind.

  20. You are spot on about choosing your words wisely. My favorite quote about writing is from Mark Twain. (Some people think he was a pretty good writer.) :)

    “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

    And finding that word can make all the difference, as hard as it is to do sometimes.

    Blogging is so immediate and I think a lot of bloggers (myself included sometimes) don’t take the time to sit on a post for a bit and elevate it beyond its first draft stage. Proofreading isn’t any fun, but it’s what makes a good piece a great piece (and never vice versa).

  21. Better yet, work as a team! I proof my wife’s work and she does mine. It’s great having fresh eyes on your work.

  22. Hi Stefanie,

    Proofreading is a task that I really don’t enjoy (one among the many people you described above). But, however boring it might be, it is an extremely important aspect of blogging.

    Most of the times, I rush with proofreading, giving it less importance and time. And due to this, errors remain here and there throughout the entire post!

    Often, when I scan for errors, my mind tends to read the wrong word the right way. Like- I may have typed in ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’, still, while proofreading, I’d read it the correct way- ‘the’!

    I guess this happens because I’m hurrying up with the process. I’ve never really given any thought towards spicing up proofreading by adding a bit of creativity in there.

    Maybe I should start doing so. Maybe that’s the missing piece of the puzzle :)

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips and thanks to Kingged.com, where I found the link to this post. Hope that I’ll soon start loving proofreading :)

    Arun

  23. Great post Stefanie and I really like the quotes. Another I’m always reminded of by Mark Twain, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

    Learning how and when to proof and polish has always been a challenge for me. I know I should write now and proof later – but I continually get caught up in writing, rewriting and rewriting – and then never finishing the article.

    Recently listened to Sonia’s interview with Chris Brogan on writing better. And as Chris said, striving for perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be. Write it and get it out there. Let people take a swing at it and gather that feedback.

    Now if I could just take my own (and Brogan’s) advice.

    Thanks again for your post.

  24. Very helpful, Stephanie.

    I too have to stop before I proofread my writing to death