Are the “Proofreading Police”
Watching You?

Police Officer

I was driving back from the store the other day when I noticed something. When there’s a police officer on the road, people slow down; they drive the speed limit; they use their turn signals; they pay attention.

Then I thought—wouldn’t it be nice if writers did the same thing?

If there were “Proofreading Police” standing over our shoulders watching as we write, I bet we would slow down and actually proofread our work before publishing it online.

So many writers rush through their work and never proofread it (or simply proofread sloppily). Everywhere I look on the Web—in articles linked to from Twitter, in blog posts, on websites, and in e-zines—there are typos, repeated words, and even missing words.

Now don’t get me wrong—mistakes happen. But when your content is proofread properly, very few mistakes end up in the final piece. It seems as if some writers are so eager to hit that “publish” button they don’t think to do some proofreading first.

So when it comes time to proofread your writing, pretend the “Proofreading Police” are watching over your shoulder so you can’t skip the proofreading process. If you do, you’ll get a hefty fine.

You’ll have no choice but to:

  • Run Spell Check—It comes with word processing programs for a reason: use it!
  • Read Through Your Writing—Read through word-by-word to check for missing words, grammar, punctuation, etc.
  • Read Your Writing Aloud—Read your work aloud so you can hear how it sounds. Watch for places that are clunky or where you run out of breath—this probably means you need to reword something or break the line up into a couple sentences.
  • Have Someone Else Read Your Writing—Send your writing to a friend to read, or ask your significant other or the person sitting in the cube next to you to read what you’ve written before you publish it or send it off. A second pair of eyes can catch things that you’ll likely read over.

Obviously there will be times when you need to get something out there as soon as possible and going through this entire process won’t be possible. But at the very least, use spell check and read through your work a couple times looking for errors. Trust me, your readers will notice.

Now go proofread your work….or the “Proofreading Police” will get you.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is a creative and effective copywriter. Her blog, Procrastinating Writers, offers writing advice, motivation, and inspiration for writers who struggle to get started (in other words, all writers :) ).

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Comments

  1. Chuckles… I wrote on this same topic yesterday. I can’t help but sometimes read online copy with a hyper critical eye. I know blogs are a relaxed format, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to double (or triple) check your work. We expect people to spend their time reading our words, then we MUST spend the time necessary to ensure it is the best experience possible.

    My post was “7 Rules for Squeaky Clean Copy.” Rule #2 Read your words as though someone else wrote them. Rule #5 Read out loud.

  2. Sometimes I do all that and I still miss something. At least my mom reads all my posts and emails me the typos. :)

  3. I just had a typo in the first sentence of a newsletter I sent to several thousand. I only did the fourth option – “have someone else read it.” Knew better but did it anyway – in a rush to publish. Blerg!

  4. Guilty.

    Even though I do have a team (my family) of eager grammar police, stuff still gets through. Ridiculous really. But I see it on some of the webs finer sites, the BBC in the UK being a fine example of the occasional gaffe.

  5. @WriterDad I read your post this morning. Great stuff!

    @SingleParentDad Yes, I’ve noticed a lot of mistakes on sites that I love and read every single day. Even sites that have hundreds of thousands of readers. That’s what prompted this guest post.

  6. Great advice! I always find that the more mistakes there are, and the less they’re like typos (homonyms, misuse of punctuation), the more it degrades the authority of the author. After all, if you’re a professional writer and a supposed expert, you should know how to spell the jargon.

  7. I can’t believe how many errors I see on blogs, etc. I love having someone else read over for me, because once I’m done writing, I can’t look at the piece anymore!!

    Great post!

  8. It helps to read it backwards! It isolates each word and makes spelling mistakes and typos stand out.

  9. I sometimes wonder when it happens if a post author did it by mistake or if the spelling mistake was intentional to create more responses.

  10. …if the spelling mistake was intentional to create more responses.

    If so, someone’s got the wrong idea.

  11. Hi Jen,

    Good to see you here again! I might have the opposite problem. Not that my writing is perfect (far from it), but being a high school English teacher has made me paranoid of these kinds of mistakes. I must read over my stuff a hundred times and I’m still reluctant to press “publish.” Sometimes I even close my eyes while I do it as if I might blow up my blog by publishing! Yet, as you say, these mistakes still manage to sneak through.

    Thanks for another great post!

    -MJ

    Okay, I’ve read over it and I’m going to press submit now… :)

  12. A lot of frequent bloggers say typos are just part of the game… personally it bugs the **** out of me when i see that stuff – especially in pro work.

    It just seems like standards have really gone down in all creative stuff online – especially you see this in online video – as a result of youtube and spawn….. When it comes down to it, content will always be king…but like garyvee says: “your marketing is queen – and the queen runs the house….!”
    – but in blogging – your marketing is built in to the writing – i.e. it’s in the value you provide that compels people to subscribe and join your “tribe” – SO HEY don’t leave the queen locked in the closet there copybloggers!!!

    ps please forgive my horrible grammatical syntax – i didn’t have time to spellcheck

  13. @MJ I totally understand. I have formal editing training (newspaper and magazine) and so I’m always re-reading my stuff a hundred times, too. But then I also send it to one of my writer friends for critique. My friends are amazing–they always catch the mistakes I read right over.

    @Satya Columbo Me too! It drives me crazy to see errors in things that I’m reading. Especially when it comes from a site that I look to for advice on my writing career/business.

  14. I’m not much of a writer and not a “blogger” however when I need to send a very professional letter I wil re-read it a few times and if still unsure I send it to a special person to proof-read and tweak for me. She always comes through-she’s my angel!

  15. I print all my posts prior to publishing; this makes proofreading much more effective.

    I read all my posts aloud too.

    Oh, and my brother takes a look at everything as well before I publish the masterpiece.

    Well… Looks like I won’t be getting any tickets anytime soon, now will I?

    Booya.

  16. I wish someone would watch over my “one eye blind” writing. I know I probably write much to fast, and could certainly use sum kleen upp on many of my posts!!!!

    Like the previous commenter, it bugs the crap out of me, too, but often, I notice it after I have published.

  17. I’m not saying I’m perfect by any means, but sloppy writing bugs me! I just read a ranting post today about how companies assume mom bloggers are stupid…and the author spelled “you’re” without the “e” and the apostrophe several times.

    *sigh*

  18. Great post! Although errors and typos happen to everyone at some point, such a small thing can have a huge influence on your reader as to whether or not they continue reading your article or how long they spend on your website. A well-written message adds to your credibility while one with typos and errors only takes away from it.

  19. @Jennifer, Yea I pretty much just write the stuff and let my computer do all the work for me or i give it to my sistser. I also most def wouldnt consider myself the last person to write anything. NOW CAN YOU DIGGGGG THAT!!!!!

  20. Blogs that use “your” when they mean “you are” are guaranteed to cause me to run screaming for the hills.

    It’s a physical pain it is.

  21. I miss the days back in the 1950s when every item published by our newspaper had to pass muster with our proofreaders. They would not only point out our typos, but also our syntax errors and the possibility that we could be confusing our readers. I still remember the fear of having one of these “little old ladies” standing over my desk to politely tell me that my copy needed correcting. And, of course, in those days, everyone in the newsroom noticed that you “got a visitor”.

  22. It certainly helps to have someone else read the post as the more I read it, the more I become blind to what are obvious errors. I like the idea of reading it backwards by Ingrid, I may give that a go.

  23. Efrin Saffin :

    Homeland Security is on this right now! ProofreadWatcher is the next item on the AGENDA, once the SwineFlu Panhysteria is run out. In short, the proposed penalty for more than 3 TPM (Typo Per Thousand) words, is a 30 day complementary lock down in random locations.

    Eventually, punctuation error, hyphen-abuse, and wrongful thought will be included in the List of Errors. Notification of the ProofreadWatcher program ‘rules change’ is not required therefore, prosecution will be arbitrary and capricious.

    Since our political leaders use a carrot and gun approach to citizen modification, President Obama will be calling for $117 billion funding for writer’s education programs. These programs will be ‘voluntary’ and completely free of charge. Credentials and cash grants will be issued for each cooperative attendee upon successful program completion.

    Personally, I’m really looking forward to ProofreadWatcher. It may take down a kot of competition!

  24. oops! No offense Riannn RanchURRRRD but you could have used a spell checker as well as grammar checker today. It helps to slow down too! Also proper English is appreciated.

  25. Guilty as charged ossifer.

    I hope WordPress comes out with a “delay RSS feed X minutes” very soon. That at least gives me a fighting chance not to appear like a total dope.

    Ingrid is right: read your copy backwards. I learned this from an real proofreader.

  26. Good stuff.

    LOL to Efrin. However, how do you explain this:

    >>Personally, I’m really looking forward to ProofreadWatcher. It may take down a kot of competition!<<

    Pesky things, typos.

  27. Efrin Saffin :

    Jodi!

    U kot Me.

    Efrin

    …you know, I could have answered as a fascist overlord: ‘that was well done, Ms Kaplan! You are caliber we’re wanting here at ProofreadCentral.’

    Well, anyhoo. I’m at low ebb and seeking lunch. Anyone buying, today? Come on, speak up….

  28. @Ingrid That’s a great tip! I’m going to try it with my next piece of writing.

  29. Not only are the proofreading police watching me, they send me hate mail.

    I sort of touched on this a little today -it’s a bad habit with me. I post and run without proofing for my blog. I always check the work turned in for clients, but my own stuff doesn’t get the same eye.

    Thank goodness I have the proofreading police to keep me in check.

  30. Nicole Hicks :

    I definitely understand where this is coming from. There have been times where I have been in a rush and sent something out only to read it after and cringed when I saw some of the simple mistakes I made. I have trained myself to be careful of what I write and double check everything (or at least almost everything). I have been taught a valuable lesson too many times. I also find myself having a critical eye when I read online and print material. You sometimes question how reputable someone is if they can not get the simple things right. That is something none of us wants.

  31. @Nicole Hicks Well said.

  32. “But when your content is proofread properly, very few mistakes end up in the final piece.”

    I’d say when it’s done properly, NO mistakes end up in the final piece.

  33. YES! They are watching! >:-<

  34. Efrin Saffin :

    I have got to get this out – long, long ago in a web universe far, far away, I volunteered to be typocop for a very well known newsletter writer. You couldn’t ask for a more thankless task.

    I seemed so easy for me; typocop was my thing. Paid nothing for heroic work, and no thanks forthcoming (shake my golden locks in dismay!)

    You know, I really should have worn a Superman’s cape while working away at his copy. At least, I would have felt better.

    Today, that same writer is turning out ever more typo-ridden work than ever. I frankly think, it is a sign of failure, to post obviously error heavy copy. I mean, the guy is being paid for this stuff!

  35. Good advice, Jennifer. One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of attention to detail on so many sites. I don’t expect everyone to be a professional writer, but I do expect a certain amount of quality control. Badly written copy filled with typos and bad grammar will seriously undermine credibility, even when the reader doesn’t recognize everything that’s wrong.

  36. Very good advice. I’m fairly pedantic when it comes to proofreading. Poor spelling and incorrect grammar can result in a loss of credibility.

  37. @John McWade I agree. But no one’s perfect.

  38. “Guilty as charged, Officer. I’ll try never to let it happen again and will promise to send all writing for here forward to an excellent proofreader.”

    *hmmm, am I going to have to wait and have someone proofreed this comment before I hit the submit button? Nah, it’ll be fine; too small to make an error in such a short post.*

  39. Dang it, shoulda had it proofed!

  40. Efrin Saffin :

    Nothin’ like self a bit of conscious behavior change when chatting about ‘proper anything.’ For instance, the topic ‘use of clearly enunciated words’ in communication. Like saying ‘psychiatrist’ in a crowded elevator –

    Suddenly, everyone acts just a little differently.

  41. Efrin Saffin :

    Gad, that is bad….geez

    Do over, pleeseeee

    Where is my lunch!

  42. I usually do all of those for my blog posts. I usually proofread my post 3 – 4 times.

  43. I do the first two religiously, the third when necessary.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have someone who can regularly read everything I write. In my field I’m so busy cranking out words that I can’t take the time.

  44. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people do not take the time to read and reread what they are typing. I have seen so many emails, blogs, websites and other electronic information that is just murdered with incorrect spelling, grammar and the like. I laugh when I read things like ‘I am going to there house’ or ‘Your welcome’ in replies. I wish there were some form of proofreading police force out there to stop this stuff from happening sometimes because it just irks me to no end.

  45. @Jennifer Blanchard thanks for your response! – it’s nice to see you care enough to make one, even when clearly it would be impossible to answer everyone…! i have a slightly off-topic question here, as i prepare to create a new blog – how much time do you spend on average responding to comments vs. actually writing a post? (I hope this isn’t a blogging faux-pas, i just thought you might have some insight into this.)

    Trying to gauge what should be a target number to stick to without going completely insane!

    Thanks again
    Satya

  46. ‘Now go proofread your work….or the “Proofreading Police” will get you.’

    So what’s with the full stop after the ellipsis?

  47. Gripped by fear, I’m going to jail for sure.

  48. Jennifer,

    The reading out loud trick always works the best, though if you’re writing longer copy it is a time commitment. Having someone else you trust (the trusting part is important) is also invaluable, though it’s hard to get others to commit their time for anything selfless.

    Part of the problem, I feel, is that a lot of people don’t budget the time for proofreading. Honestly, I can’t see how somebody can put out work that hasn’t been through at least one rewrite anyway, which by itself will clear up the vast majority of errors.

    I guess some people just feel they write better the first time, and then don’t take the time to do the rest.

    Regardless, a great reminder of the promise we implicitly make every time we publish that we’re going to try our best.

  49. Hi Jennifer. Won’t being too conscious about your writing take away the fun of blogging? Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you completely, proofreading and all, that’s a mark of a prudent writer.

    However, I also believe blogging shpuld be spontaneous and not so perfect. Somehow shows the human element in writing;-)

    ‘Not being critical, ok. Like your post. Thanks.

    Note:
    I proofread my comment and saw some wrong spelling. oops:)

  50. There are two issues here.

    First, it’s hard for writers to edit their own work. When you’re that close to the forest, it’s easy to miss the trees, so to speak.

    Second, the Internet is full of people who are writing. Does that make them “writers”? In a way, yes. And also, no. Most people publishing online have no formal training, so many of the syntactical/grammatical/semantic/linguistic mistakes you see are because the writers have never studied or been taught the “rules”. Most people swear by the “wrong” thing they’re doing because they see the same wrong thing repeated all over the place and assume it’s, therefore, correct. It’s usually hard to convince them otherwise.

    In short, being a proof-reader, and convincing folks that they could benefit from a proof-reader, is hard. :-)

  51. @David Dittell I think you’re right. Proofreading seems to be an after-thought for many writers. Pushing ‘publish’ is a promise to our readers that we’re giving them the best work we’re capable of. We should deliver.

    @Dumb, Dumber and Darwin I get what you’re saying, but I believe if you’re putting something out there for the public, you should do your best to make it as readable as possible. This is especially important if you’re blogging professionally (or trying to) because your blog posts are the credentials that get you noticed. You want to make sure it’s for something positive, like good writing, and not something negative, like having errors or lack of proofreading.

    This may not be the case with people who use their blog as a personal journal. Although I still think if it’s viewable by the public, it should be proofread.

    @Yvette Ferry I agree. It IS hard for writers to edit their own work, which is why I suggested writers ask someone to read their work for them. A second (or third) pair of eyes can do wonders for your final product.

    I don’t believe writers have to be formally trained to call themselves writers. And one could even argue that people who graduated from high school have “formal” training in writing, as you spend years of your life learning everything about the English language (whether you retain the knowledge or not is obviously a different story).

    I think the main problem with a lot of writing on the internet is that it’s not proofread. I’m not saying every person should be a writer; but I am saying that everyone should at least have the right to attempt it.

  52. Jennifer,

    I’m loving it! I wrote about the use of punctuation. As an English major, I feel the added pressure when I blog. I often read my posts several times before hitting the publish button and actually read again days after posting to be sure I didn’t spell something wrong or that it reads well. You can imagine the difficulty I have reading online news, etc. because I am always in edit mode. It’s so difficult to read for content only w/o also noticing grammar, spelling, etc. I even type my comments in Word to be sure there are no errors. I make edits where I see fit because Word doesn’t always do the job.

    Disclaimer: If you read any errors in this comment, then remember that I’m only human.

  53. Reading aloud is definitely crucial. I make it a point to read aloud every post now.

  54. Words words words words words.

    They keep multiplying!

    I used to be the most anal retentive proofing zealot. No more. It’s like fingers down a blackboard when I read over old blog posts and see typos or repetition or missing words.

    But the more ideas I need to express and hone and leverage for myself and others, the more words I write and the more careless I get. Shame shame shame.

  55. I really enjoy reading posts like these because I only ever think it’s me that notices bad text online. Whenever possible I have someone read my work. It always helps to have a fresh pair of eyes look over the text, especially if you’ve been sitting writing it for a long period of time. It is so easy to distribute writing and forget about it, but the people that want results from their writing will take the time out to ensure it is written properly.

  56. This topic has become popular lately– I posted twice on it last week. When I started blogging I spent too much time perfecting my posts. As a proofreader by trade I’ve learned to relax a bit (just a bit) while blogging. What works for me is to read with one eye closed. Reading out loud helps too.

  57. Here’s the problem: most people don’t know how to spell in the first place so if Word misses a word or doesn’t catch some mistakes, the writer is doomed.

    I’m still amazed at how some people just never learned how to spell very common words correctly.

  58. We DO have copy police watching us–our readers! And they are a critical bunch.

    I teach writing at the university level, but I am still human–a typo sneaks in here and there.

    Advice I give my students: Don’t rush to hit the PUBLISH button. Save as a draft, walk away for a time, then return fresh to take another look. Not only will you catch proofing errors, but also lapses in logic.

  59. Thanks for a great post and wonderful follow-up conversation. There was a time that only professional writers appeared in print, with the internet anyone can publish, and we all need to heed this sage advice.

  60. My 2007 AP Stylebook lists Web site (an exception to Webster’s first listing), and Web page. But webcam, webcast, webmaster.

  61. I am terrible at this. I always use spell check but that doesn’t always find the grammar errors. My problem is that I don’t reread until after it is published and even then sometimes I never do. I keep intending too but for some reason I struggle with it.

    I think the best way for me to do this would be by setting up a little checklist of things that I need to do when I write a post. Proofreading would be number 1 on that list.

  62. Greg–You could also ask someone else to read over your post BEFORE you hit publish.

  63. Reading the comments, I thought I’d add something that may not be common practice for some bloggers out there.

    When I’m writing a blog post and I feel it’s ready to go (I’ve done my proofreading and editing), I use the WordPress preview button to read it as it would appear when published.

    For some reason this helps me to find additional errors because I’m seeing it in a different space, exactly as it will appear on my blog. Seeing the post in “a different light,” I usually find something I’d previously missed.

  64. @Greg Yes! A proofreading checklist would most definitely help you, especially when you first start out learning to proofread. I like to use checklists to help me make sure I do everything as well. Great suggestion!

    @MJ I do the same thing! My blog is also in WordPress, so I use the preview button to catch any errors. This also helps me find formatting errors since it’s been my experience that many WYSIWYG editors, although they claim to show you what you’ll get, aren’t always accurate when you see the final published version.

  65. hehe!

    The amount of times I have published only to scan through later and kick myself has prompted me to follow all of the above steps…

    Like people always say stick with your strengths so if like me proofreading isn’t one of them, find someone whose it is!

  66. I wholeheartedly agree with ensuring your copy is in great shape PRIOR to publication. For me, that includes the whole range of publication: blogs, Twitter, even email. Dang, I’ll even spruce up my copy when I’m IMing!

    I’ve seen major typos in published books in the last few years. Every blue moon, I’ll copy and paste these typos into an email and send them to the author. I ask the author in the same breath to not consider me hypercritical for pointing out these typos. I genuinely appreciate when my readers apprise me of typos. I keep a ‘typo file’ and, for print versions, I make the changes for the next run. For eBooks, I can of course make the change(s) right away.

    The speed at which the net makes communication possible should NOT erode the quality and professionalism of what we say and write.

  67. Great tips!

  68. I know I am guilty of this. Even though I spell check, read everything word by word and make sure I’m using the correct spelling for the word, I know I probably miss something every now and then. I don’t claim to be a great writer or even “OK” editor since this was never a part of my “9-5″ life.

    Sometimes I spend more times editing than doing the actual writing.

  69. I just came across this article, thought you all might be interested to see it: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/errors_by_bloggers_kill_credib.php

  70. Terrific post! People should just seek for professional grammar and writing support as these are key in any writing work. Very useful. Thanks!

  71. I just had a typo in the first sentence of a newsletter I sent to several thousand. I only did the fourth option – “have someone else read it.” Knew better but did it anyway – in a rush to publish. Blerg!

  72. Great tips! Another proofreading tip is to single out and
    check for certain types of errors one at a time. For example:
    Go through the text and check only for spelling errors. Then go through the text again, and this time check only that headings and subheadings are formatted consistently. Repeat this process for any particular type of error.