The Editorial Apartment


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The basic proofread for marketers with a small budget

If you can’t afford to hire a professional copy editor or proofreader to review your marketing communications before final publishing, here’s how you can do a very basic proofread of the item by yourself.

These steps cover some basic items to look for, and they work best if your marketing piece is fairly simple, on one page, for example, and not text heavy. These steps also assume you have the “final” designed piece (digital or printed) in front of you, ready for your approval.

  1. Put the piece away somewhere and don’t look at it again until the next day.
  2. Read it again slowly and calmly for sense and flow, and verify that the main message is clear overall. Since you’re about to go live with this piece, you shouldn’t be making any major content (or design) changes.
  3. Now look at it in more detail. Read it again from the beginning. Review each and every word for spelling, especially proper names. Misspellings are the worst error to miss.
  4. Verify that any dates, times, phone numbers, and Web or street addresses are correct.
  5. Now look for space issues. Look for extra spaces between paragraphs, sentences, words and letters. There should be only one space between sentences, not two. Strange spacing in text (if it is not intentional) is awkward and off-putting.
  6. Check if any text is accidentally cut off or covered up by something in the design, making it unreadable, or if text has somehow dropped out. Missing text or covered text errors are especially sloppy.
  7. Submit your changes to your Web or graphic designer.
  8. On the revised version, check that your changes were done correctly. Glance at the whole piece again and verify that nothing else was changed by accident. If everything looks good, then you’re ready to approve. If not, go back to step 7.

What about grammar or punctuation? If you have a doubt, you’ll have to consult the copywriter who wrote the piece.

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Copy Editor’s Tip: Creating the first layout

Finally, you’re ready to create the first layout, when final design and copy come together. It means your project is nearly done. I always look forward to seeing the plain text I’ve been reviewing up until then transform into something more visual. But to get the cleanest first layout to present to the client in the fastest way, i.e., with minimal rounds of changes, project managers should remember two things:

  • Last-minute changes to the copy before first layout should be proofread by the proofreader/editor.
  • In the first proofread after the first layout, the proofreader may have to make further changes to the “final” copy.

It’s tempting to have the designer input any last-minute copy changes. However, any errors in the requested changes, or structural fixes needed as a result of the changes, are easier to fix in a plain text document by the editor/proofer, which avoids a round through the design department in case the first layout turns out to be otherwise perfect.

After layout, the proofer will make sure all the copy was laid out. However, when copy melds with a design, it takes another form, it looks different and may read different. Also, the designer may have slightly modified some text, such as a header or caption, to make it fit better in the design. Further, the proofer will be reviewing the piece overall, not just the copy, checking for conformance to house style for example, which may or may not involve small tweaks to the copy. This review is like a first review of a new piece.

It should only take a few production rounds to perfect the first layout, and hopefully, the result is exactly what the client wanted.


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“How long will this take to proofread/edit?” asked the project manager

impendingsunset The sun is preparing to set in this picture. That can happen surprisingly fast, as you know, but at the same time you must wait. That is the pace at which to start to imagine how long it might take to proofread or edit something.

Many factors are involved. For example, the experience of the proofer/editor, the nature of the piece to be reviewed, whether you want copyediting or proofreading, the amount of text and number of pages, if the piece is a text document or if the piece is already laid out into a design, etc.

To help reduce the time spent proofreading or copyediting, provide any background information about the item to be reviewed, such as what it will be used for, if it’s a printed piece or an online piece, or if it’s part of an existing campaign. If there are things you don’t want checked or modified in any way, mention them.

In other words, a “small” piece with just three words doesn’t take two seconds to review. Allow at least 30 minutes.

The answer: Anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. With a quick glance at the material and with any background information you provide, a good copy editor or proofreader should be able to estimate the time needed.