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How to perfect your proofreading

As health communications professionals, we love creating high-quality content that speaks to every audience. We know how easy it can be for typos, errors and inconsistencies to find their way in, particularly when you’re dealing with complex, health-related topics. That’s why we want to use this month’s post to share a few tips and tricks to help your organisation make sure its content is polished and publication-ready.

Why it’s important to proofread

It might feel like an add-on, but proofreading is an integral part of the content development process. Why? Because typos happen – even when you’ve screened for them. It’s not about being careless, it’s because the way we read and write can make it almost impossible to spot your own mistakes.

For example, there is research to suggest that when we read, we rarely take account of individual letters. Instead, we learn to recognise the shapes of different words and phrases – a time-saving technique that allows us to scan articles and content quickly. Sometimes referred to as typoglycemia, the premise is that if the first and last letters of a word are in place, your brain will recognise the shape and fill in the gap. This means that even if the words are jmulebd, is’t slitl pbslisoe to udesnatrd tehm. It does make it a bit harder to spot typos though!

People also have a tendency to ‘generalise’ when performing high-level tasks such as writing and reading. To do this, our brains will try and generalise simple, component parts (turning letters into words and words into sentences) so that it’s free to focus on more complex tasks – like communicating, or understanding meaning (thanks for explaining it all so clearly!). The flaw in this plan is that we end up reading what we think we’ve written, not what we’ve actually written.

So what do we do about it?

How to perfect your proofreading

  1. Make proofreading part of the writing process: Proofreading isn’t an afterthought, it is an integral part of the writing process, so you need to make time (and budget) for it. Don’t do it in a rush. Give yourself the time and space to run one or two final proofs. 
  1. Use the ‘read aloud’ function on your word processor: You might not read your own mistakes, but chances are you’ll hear them. With a host of fun accents to choose from, listening to your work is a great way to find missing words, typos and uber-long sentences. 
  1. Change the font size, style or colour: If you want your brain to register what you’ve read, you need to make your text unfamiliar. Try changing the font size, style, or colour – you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to spot those unsightly errors. 
  1. Go from back to front: It’s hard to predict meaning when you’re working through paragraphs backwards. Breaking your work into separate pieces will help you focus on those smaller component parts, not the overarching meaning or argument. 
  1. Come back in a few days: Give yourself time to forget what you’ve written, and you’ll spot typos and mistakes a mile away. 
  1. Enlist the help of a little AI: There is a wonderful piece of software (PerfectIT – no we’re not being paid) that uses AI to cross-check your work against a range of pre-set style guides. It’s a great way to fine-tune your work, and check for inconsistencies (think abbreviations, compound words, hyphens and dashes) – particularly across longer documents. 
  1. Make a checklist of common errors: Are there certain words you always get wrong, or bad habits that you slide into? Write them down and make a checklist of easily avoidable errors and pin it to your computer screen. 
  1. Highlight factors that are likely to change: Data, budgets, names and numbers are always likely to change last minute. Highlight them as you work through your document and cross-check each and every one before it’s finalised.

And finally… No matter how good you are at proofing your own work, there is no replacement for a fresh set of eyes. Once you’re happy, give it to a colleague for a final once-over before you click ‘send’. If they don’t find anything, you’ve done a great job. If they do, you’ll be glad you did.

Are you looking to take your marketing communications to the next level? Whether you’re a non-profit, biotech, medtech or pharma, Infinity Communications is here to help you create breakthrough communications for a healthier world. Contact us to start your journey.

Author: Jen Ruthe, Senior Content Consultant, Infinity Communications