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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Using the slash mark

When reviewing business copy, I often notice a lot of use of the slash mark. First, besides appearing in URLs, fractions, or dates, for example, a slash is a mark that shows options: Food/drinks will be available in the patio.

This use of the slash is a bit informal and can sometimes be awkward, hence it’s probably best to avoid it or at least not overuse it. Some think the phrase “and/or” is unclear: Does the slash really mean both “and” and “or,” or does it mean just “or”? Lawyers, in particular, don’t like “and/or”—see this article for an explanation.

There is also the spacing issue around the slash. Here’s when to put space around it and when not to:

  • If the options are single words, you don’t need a space around the slash: We have a substantial promotions/signage budget.
  • If one of the options, or both options, is a phrase, put a space around the slash to help clarify what the options are: Please sign up for our e-newsletter / text message alerts here.

If you think the spacing looks a bit awkward, avoid the slash and just use words: Please sign up for our e-newsletter and text message alerts here.

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Never forget to proofread

Proofreading is not just about checking spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s about checking for sense, consistency, spacing, coherence to style guides and more. A spell-checker alone is just not enough … and this can be explained with a poem: