In a previous life, I was a sub-editor at newspapers including the Northern Territory News, The Courier-Mail and Bundaberg NewsMail. People often think because the role “sub-editor” has the word “editor” in it, it involves some kind of prestige or glamour, but let me tell you, being a sub-editor is anything but glamorous! It involves reading, reading, reading and more reading. Reading until you go cross-eyed. Reading sports stories when you have no interest whatsoever in sports stories. Reading barely comprehensible articles written by on-edge journalists under the pump to get their stories written as quickly as possible (24/7 news means quantity over quality – but that’s a rant for another day!).
To be a sub-editor, you need an excellent grasp of the English language and a meticulous eye for detail. It’s not just about picking up typos or grammatical errors; it’s about ensuring factual accuracy and logical copy flow. You need to be 100% present when you are reading an article to ensure it is free of errors before going to print.
You may be thinking: “What a boring job! What do the skills of a sub-editor have to do with me?”
Let me ask you: Do you write emails? Do you write copy for advertising? Do you have a website? Do you post on social media? Do you write a blog? If you answered yes to any of these, you need to know how to proofread.
Proofreading is the careful examination of copy to find and correct typographical and grammatical errors – and it is vital to everyday communication. How many times have you been impressed by an error-riddled email or blog post? I’d wager never. If you can proofread well, you are more likely to make a positive impact on your audience.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a trained sub-editor to proofread your blog posts or website copy. Here are some simple yet effective tips that will help you become a better proofreader.
Print your work
It is amazing what you don’t pick up on a screen that you notice on a printed page. Make a hard copy of your work, grab a pen and start marking.
Use a coloured pen
Black or blue pen markings are easily lost amongst the black text on a printed page. Use a red or green pen so you can easily see your markings when you go back to your computer to make changes.
Read word by word
Ensure you take the time to read each word individually. It’s easy to miss a typo or spelling error – particularly in easy-to-spell words – if you read quickly and fail to look at each word separately. Really spell each word out to yourself – even say them aloud.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes
As you read, forget the fact that you wrote the copy and pretend you are the intended audience. Does the copy flow well and make sense? Is all the relevant information provided? Does the copy assume the audience knows things they probably don’t? Note that this is more copy editing than proofreading, but it is an important part of the review process.
Get someone else to read your work
Sometimes it’s difficult to distance yourself from your work so you can read it objectively. It’s also easy to read something so many times that your brain turns to mush! Getting a colleague or trusted friend to proofread your writing can help. Make sure they understand that you only want them to proofread your work, to avoid unwanted or unnecessary feedback. If you do want a more thorough appraisal of your copy, make sure they understand exactly what your writing is trying to achieve.
Make your changes, then print again
It’s easy to accidentally hit the backspace key or make other errors when you go back to your computer to correct your work, so it’s important you print and read your work again. If you’re concerned about using too much paper, then read your work on your computer in PDF format. A PDF doesn’t replace a hard copy, but it comes close to it.
I hope that helps! Happy proofreading.