Plans A, B and C for Proofing Copy When You Don’t Have a Copy Editor Handy
If you work in public relations, as I do, it is probably all too often that you find yourself simultaneously responding to three different emails, answering an urgent text message from your boss, and discussing the last-minute changes a client wants to make to a new product announcement that’s slated to go live in less than 12 hours.
The problem comes when you hit send on an email to one of your client CEOs and realize that you typed “Hi Babe” instead of “Hi Gabe.”
If Gabe is a nice CEO, he will probably laugh that one off. But if your correspondence with him is regularly riddled with errors, his trust in you and your ability to competently represent his company — you are, after all, a paid communicator — may begin to erode.
In a best-case scenario, everything you send to your clients is perfect every time. Maybe your agency has the luxury of an in-house copy editor whose full-time job it is to edit everything that the staff produces — releases, pitches, briefing documents, social media posts, quote drafts, emails — before clients or media contacts ever lay eyes on them.
If you are out here in the real world and don’t have a full-time copy editor reviewing everything you write, here are your next-best options.
Borrow Some Eyeballs
Your best line of defense against errors and typos is to get as many other people to look at something as possible. These people don’t have to be copy editors, just people with a fresh set of eyes and a will to see your team succeed.
The more important the piece of content, the more eyeballs you need on it.
Use Spell and Grammar Check
There isn’t much to say about this one. It’s so simple, so obvious. And yet, for whatever reason, you never do it, do you?
Master the Art of Slow Reading
Let me tell you a story.
A client of ours won an award and asked for a press release to announce the win. They had had won the same award the previous year, so I pulled up that that release on there website for reference. “[Company] bakes gold…” the release cheerfully announced in the first paragraph.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a baking competition.
How many typos did you notice in the preceding paragraph? One?
Now go back and read the paragraph out loud. Whispering works, too, but you have to be able to hear yourself. How many did you find this time? All three? This is slow reading.
Your brain is amazing at tricking you into not seeing typos. The reason is because it’s being efficient: it operates like your iPhone’s autocorrect and predictive text feature to show you what it knows the sentence is trying to communicate, not what it actually says.
Slow reading is a pretty reliable way to short-circuit this function and is — at least in part — how copy editors work their magic. The rest is a steel-trap mind for the rules of grammar, punctuation and the AP Stylebook.
These solutions aren’t perfect. But these three tips will serve you well. Will they take a few extra minutes? Yes, they will. But it’s time well spent.