Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Proofreading and editing isn’t that hard…you’d think. Still, I manage to stay in business because I have a secret. Now I’m sharing it with you. I’m a Sydney proofreader who’s been in business for almost 20 years. I still have many of my original clients (which makes me very happy).

Before we start, I want you to begin to think differently about the chore of proofreading. You think it’s all about finding mistakes, right?

Wrong. It’s more about patterns.

Take a look at this graphic below:







What’s the first thing that pops into your head? What do you notice?

Me? I look at that and groan. It’s all wrong! The four-sided figures aren’t all the same size or the same shape and they’re on different planes. That image makes me feel a little bit sick.

I am pleased that they’re all the same colour.

So what was your reaction? If you groaned, too, you’ll make a brilliant proofreader.

You see the ‘wrongness’ of the grouping.

However, if your first reaction was, “They’re all blue” or “They’re all four-sided” then you’ll do OK as well. You’ve seen a pattern.

(If your first reaction was ‘Rubbish logo’, then you’re probably a graphic designer and you can stop reading now.)

What doesn’t fit the pattern?

When you proof copy, you’re looking for words or symbols that don’t fit – the word ‘color’ amongst pages of ‘colour’, the em rule or hyphen instead of universal en rules. (One of my favourite clients hates me because I change her incorrectly placed hyphens to ens. She thinks it’s pointless. I disagree. The mixture of hyphens and ens where there should be all ens…well, it’s disturbing to a reader.)

Most of us ‘see’ things that don’t fit but allow our brain to override that part that’s saying, “Isn’t something wrong here?”

When you proofread, your first step should be to ‘look without looking’ so your brain can register what doesn’t fit.

General proofreading tips

Once you have a sense of the wrongness or rightness, make a list of everything you’re checking. This could be: client’s name, phone number and address; product names; offer (all 15% not 18%); or page numbers and links.

If you must do your own proofreading, then read each word syllable by syllable. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Better still, give your copy to a colleague or an experienced proofreader (like me) and give yourself a second chance.

Finally, read through your corrected copy once more to make sure it all makes sense.

So what are your tricks? Can you read your own copy…or do you give it up as a bad job and hand it over to a fresh pair of eyes?



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I work as a copywriter in Sydney and across Australia. Often, that entails editing and rewriting ‘bad’ copy.

What is ‘bad’ copy?

That question has many answers but here I’d like to address one major issue. It’s a copywriting style you’ll see often in board papers, tenders, bids, corporate brochures and the like.

What is it?

Passive voice.

Take this example:

‘The house was built by Jack.’

Jack built the house; what’s the problem in saying so?

It’s all about responsibility

In the simple example above, there’s no real harm done. However, when it comes to official documents (especially those that go on public record), passive voice is a big copout.


Because it removes responsibility.

How often have you seen, ‘It was decided…’ in a corporate document?

A fair few times, I’ll guess.

No one or no organisation accepts responsibility for the decision.

“Who? Us?”

To my mind, if you believe in what you’re writing and offering, then you should step up and make it clear that you’re involved, that whatever ‘was done’ is something to which you’ll put your name.

“We did it. We decided.”

No one reads gibberish

Apart from anything else, when you use passive language, you’ll end up with contorted sentence constructions that no one can decipher.

So – when you’re selling an idea or a project, take responsibility. Let your readers know that you stand by your actions and decisions.

You’ll reap the rewards in client trust.

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As a copywriter, proofreader and editor, I tend to have a dictionary by my side when I’m writing or doing other work for clients. I’m not infallible and there are some words in our English language that can trip you up often. Here’s my list:

Double letters

Accommodation: How many times do we see ‘accomodation’? Makes my blood run cold.
Millennium: ‘ll’ AND ‘nn’
Personnel: ‘nn’

S, not c

Consensus: Usually, I have to correct this after I’ve typed ‘concensus’. I’m getting better…
Supersede: As above

How you spell it, not how you say it.

Barbecue: Not barbeque, despite ‘Barbeques Galore’
Repertoire: Not ‘repetoire’
Separate: Not ‘seperate’
Subpoena: Try filling in a crossword clue with ‘supoena’ and you’ll never forget this one.

Weird and wonderful

Desiccate: Not ‘dessicate’, although we so want to use the ‘ss’.
Limousine: Not, as I see often, ‘limuosine’
Pronunciation: Not ‘pronounciation’
Memento: ‘Momento’ is Italian, it means something different – and we’re writing in English.
Weird: If you write ‘wierd’, it will look weird.

What words are on your watch list?

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The year was 1994 and it was a Saturday morning. I was happily reading the weekend papers and had skipped to the weekend magazine. A major airline had a double-page spread that read:

Left-hand page: [airline] flies to [xx] destintions in [xx] countries. (26 pt)

Right-hand page: [Country’s] favourite airline. (110 pt)

I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I had a friend who worked on that particular account.

The following Monday, I called him to confirm that the agency still had the airline account.
Him: “Yes, we do.”
Me: “Maybe not for much longer. Have you seen the weekend magazine ad?”

My friend said that the art director had come to him about this ad, saying it didn’t look right. He saw immediately that the tag line was missing the possessive apostrophe…but everyone, including the client, missed the ‘a’ in ‘destinations’.

On the strength of that pick-up, I got an introduction to the head of direct marketing. (I wrote letters…this is back in the days before email…to all the senior agency people who worked on that account but only the DM manager got in touch.)

We decided that, as I didn’t have formal experience, the agency would give me a trial. My first job was to proof all three frequent flyer brochures, check for typos and that we had all our Bronze, Silver and Gold references in the right brochure. Luckily for me, there were several errors so the art director and the copywriter understood that I could be useful and not a threat.

The rest, as they say, is history. I can trace every job I’ve ever had to that first engagement. As people changed agencies, or formed their own, they’d take me along. The DM manager left to form his own agency, as did the art director. Those agencies win awards regularly and I still work for them both occasionally.

What happened to the airline account and the agency? Well, not too long afterwards, the agency lost the account, along with three other major accounts, and then imploded. It was taken over by an international agency and limps along. Today I checked their website, only to see “gloriously purile” as a tag line for one client. Another ad is a direct copy of an ad created for a similar client by the agency for which I worked back in the 1980s.

A good proofreader does so much more than pick up a typo or three. As a proofreader, I regard myself more as a quality controller. When I proofread a document, I work with my editor hat on as well. Not only do I look for the obvious, but also, I check all the links, check spellings of personal and company names and make sure that everything makes sense. With my brand warrior hat, I make sure we use the appropriate trademarks (particularly important for major brands such as Microsoft, MasterCard and Adobe, all of whom I’ve worked for in the past). With my copywriting hat on, I optimise copy for search engines and offer alternative copy if I think it’s warranted.

The arrogance of the agency with the airline account led to their downfall. I’m not saying I could have stopped the rot, just that the lack of interest in my services was indicative of their lack of understanding of quality control.

How did you get your first proofreading or editing job? Do you still have relationships with colleagues from back then?

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