One of the luxuries afforded to professional travel writers is having a proofreader iron out any mistakes in their writing before it goes to print. Proofreading is the final quality check ahead of a work being published and can include everything from checking over spelling and grammatical errors to consistency of styling and page numbering.
As a travel blogger you are unlikely to have access to a professional proofreader and instead will need to use other skills and tools at your disposal to help produce well written blog posts.
Proofreading your own work can be very difficult for a number of reasons: you might be in a hurry to get your work published, not be in the right environment, or your brain can trick you into overlooking even the simplest of errors.
Whatever it is, these 16 tips should help you improve your ability to proofread your blog posts and produce content that is more accurate, professional and less distracting for your readers.
I promise there will be at least one tip in here that will help you improve your ability to proofread blog posts.
Proofreading Blog Posts
Tip 1. Cut Out Distractions
Constant distractions have more of an impact on your work that you might think. It’s not just the time away from the task that you lose, but the quality of your work is also reduced. Research has shown that even if you dedicate the same amount of time to your work as you would have done if not distracted you will not hit the same standard of output.
In fact, re-focusing can take anything up to 25 minutes according to Gloria Monk who studies Digital Distraction at the University of California. It’s not just the time lost to being distracted it’s the mental effort that’s required to get you back on track again.
Proofreading blog posts is detailed work and requires potentially even more of a distraction- free environment than writing them in the first place. So what can you do to help? Well I have to have almost monasterial conditions to get any work done at all, so here are a few tips to help you.
- Put your phone out of arm’s reach and on ‘do not disturb’. Shut down any unused applications on your computer and turn off notifications. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand.
- Find a quiet environment to work in, but if you can’t find one then create one. I have found the Rhythmz Harmony 3 headphones to be really useful. They have a similar impact to earplugs, with three different sizes of earbud that go a long way to blocking out external sound. I also use the YouTube video ‘Gentle Rain’ to play in the background if I am in a particularly noisy place such as a café or train.
- Build in ‘distraction breaks’. Cal Newport author of Deep Work says “instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.”
- I use the website e.ggtimer.com to set a countdown for the time period I want to work and then give myself a break to do whatever I want before getting straight back to it.
- The Pomodoro Technique of 25 working minutes followed by 5 minutes of break for 2 hours works for me, but play around until you find a good combination for you.
Tip 2. Read Out Loud
Reading your blog post out loud can help you pick out mistakes in grammar, sentence structure and readability.
Experienced bloggers such as Pat Flynn from SmartPassiveIncome.com use this technique all the time. Pat says “[when reading out loud] you’ll be able to hear the flow of your post. Maybe it makes sense in your head, but when you read it out loud it might not sound right or things might need to be rearranged at little”.
Reading out loud will help you to uncover things you wouldn’t notice when silent reading. It is such a simple change to make when proofreading blog posts but will have a big effect on the quality of your articles. So don’t be shy, give it a go after your next blog post is finished and see how it helps!
Tip 3. Take a Break Between Writing and Proofreading
It’s important to build in some time between writing your post and proofreading it so that you can look at it objectively. It is tempting to push on — you’re excited about your latest piece and you want to set it free into the world — but your credibility can take a real hit if you don’t give yourself the chance to proofread it properly.
Ideally you would leave the post for a few days before coming back to proofread it, but at the very least, build in a break to allow you to come back to it fresh. In that time get yourself away from your computer and try to do something completely unrelated: go for a run, read a magazine, listen to a podcast, switch the stereo all the way up and bellow out the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 classic ‘Hungry Heart’ (OK that might just be me!). Whatever you do just take your mind off of your writing.
When you get back your focus should be purely on objectively error-checking your post to get it ready to publish.
Tip 4. Print Your Post
There have been a number of studies on the benefits of reading from paper rather than screens. Whilst they conclude that the speed and accuracy of reading is generally not reduced, they do show that fatigue is increased and other factors such as screen size, display resolution and scrolling text mean our eyes can fail to notice mistakes that they would pick out on paper.
For proofreaders printed documents have the added benefit of allowing them to use additional physical aids to help: whether that’s using another piece of paper to cover up lines and prevent reading ahead or just being able to scribble all over the text in coloured pens.
If you are making errors whilst proofreading blog posts on a screen, then printing the document off might be an ideal solution to help you improve your accuracy and produce more professional content.
Tip 5. Get Some Help
Getting someone else to help with proofreading your blog posts is a brilliant way to improve their accuracy and readability. Not only will it help pick up mistakes, but I also find it helps eliminate those sentences that made perfect sense in my head but don’t for other people!
With the technology available now this it is really easy to get someone to help you proofread your posts quickly. My personal preference is to use Google Docs when writing an article and then give my proofreader (thanks Mum!) access to the document.
When this is done you can easily go into the file menu and choose ‘Version History’ to see the edits that have been made. If you want some more information, read this fantastic post on the Spinweb blog ‘Your Guide to Collaborative Document Editing With Google Docs’.
Tip 6. Read Your Post in Reverse
Read this piece of text.
Now read it again in reverse.
Did you notice any differences? Hopefully!
Reading in reverse is useful for spotting issues with your writing that you wouldn’t pick up when reading it normally. It takes the fun element out of reading and makes it into a much more functional task. It forces you to read in a slower more systematic way and stops your brain from rushing ahead and filling in the blanks. This will allow you to spot spelling mistakes, duplicated words and punctuation errors which are less likely to be found when reading forwards.
Tip 7. Get Professional Help
Just because you aren’t a professional travel writer does not mean you don’t have access to proofreaders, it just means you will have to pay for them yourself. If you’ve got a really important piece of work that you are about to publish and you think it might get some attention, then it might be worth using a professional.
There are many professional services online that will proofread your blog posts. I have personally only used Scribendi in the past. Their pricing structure is based on word count and turnaround time.
There are lots of different services available. Here are the most popular:
Tip 8. Use Electronic Tools….
There are lots of electronic tools available to help with proofreading your blogs posts from the humble spellcheck through to more complicated programs that will check everything from grammar to synonym suggestions when you use repeated words.
My favourite tools for proofreading are below:
I write most of my longer blog posts in Google Docs. One of the most useful features is the ‘add-ons’, a library of additional tools that help you with your document.
LanguageTool is one of my favourites and will check spelling, grammar and even make stylistic comments about your article. I would be lost without it and it regularly picks up errors that other proofreading techniques missed.
The ‘ABC’ button in WordPress does more than just check your spelling. Similarly to LanguageTool it will check for grammar errors, misused words and make stylistic suggestions.
Head into ‘Users’ and edit the settings to make it even more useful. You can activate proofreading functions for double negatives, passive voice, clichés, overly complex phrases and many more. I find this perfect as one last check before publishing especially with shorter posts which I write straight into WordPress.
One last suggestion would be to tick the ‘automatically proofread’ box which will mean the proofread tool will activate when you hit publish, making it impossible for you to forget
I have used Grammarly in the past, but for WordPress use I found it quite frustrating. The tool itself is absolutely fantastic. The problem is that when it underlines words it feels need changing the hyperlink stops working. This makes for some annoying errors when trying to quickly put together a post. There are workarounds such as switching Grammarly off when writing or working through the highlighted errors regularly, but I didn’t want to keep stopping and starting whilst writing.
Despite the frustrations with WordPress functionality I do still find myself using it, especially if I have been offline and working in a word processor. It’s easy to upload documents via the website or the downloadable program to allow you to proofread when you don’t have an internet connection.
Tip 9. …. But Don’t Rely on Electronic Tools
Electronic tools should not be a substitute for manually proofreading blog posts. They help to pick out problems, but they won’t capture them all.
Tip 10. Slow Down
Publishing a new blog post is exciting! The buzz of creating something new and waiting to see if it creates interest with readers is the reason most people write. This however, makes it easy to rush towards publication before the article is finished.
Proofreading is something best done with at a methodical pace without your hyperactive inner marketeer trying to push you to hit ‘publish’.
The average reading speed in the UK is about 250 words a minute so even the most ambitious of articles shouldn’t take much longer than 45 minutes to proofread. Give yourself the right amount of time to do the job properly and don’t compromise.
One trick I like is to read syllable by syllable like a child. This forces you to slow down and means your brain is less likely to rush ahead and fill in the blanks. This me-thod-i-cal app-roach to read-ing will nat-ur-all-y dis-rupt your nor-mal think-ing patt-ern and all-ow you to pick up more err-ors with your art-i-cle.
Tip 11. Keep an Error List and Hunt Them Down
When you’ve been proofreading your blog posts for a while you start to notice common errors and patterns in your writing. These are often related to the way you type as much as your writing ability.
As an example I regularly type ‘you’ instead of ‘your’ or ‘it’s’ when I mean ‘its’. These are simple to make and hard to pick up. They will often be overlooked by electronic tools and are easily missed when checking by eye.One solution I’ve come up with is keeping a list of the common errors I know I make and then use the ‘find/replace’’ function to hunt them down. This means I can check each instance of my common errors and ensure it reads correctly in context.
Check out this article for some hints and tips of how to use ‘find/replace’ in Google Docs.
Tip 12. Get a Different Perspective
We established earlier in this article that printing a document off might help when proofreading blog posts. A large part is because a printed document gives you different options to minimise distractions, stop you reading ahead and focus on the specific section you are proofreading.
There are some workarounds though that I have found really help when proofreading a document on a screen.
Change the Window Size
This may sound very simple, but it makes a surprising amount of difference. If you think about it, reading an article the full width of a computer screen is not what your eyes are used to. Books have smaller pages which restrict the amount of content and force your eyes to move from line to line quickly.
I have found that just taking the window and making it narrower can help me focus on proofreading a lot better. This is especially true on WordPress where the window will eventually autoformat to mobile view which is much more like reading a book than a website.
Read on a Different Device
Anything you can do to change your environment environment between the time of writing and proofreading will help you to pick up more errors. The way I do this is to use the WordPress app and then read through my draft post on there. This means I can do it away from my laptop and on a screen that is very different.
Even after I have published posts I will regularly re-read them whilst commuting to work on the train the following day. One of the great things about online media versus the printed press is that it is still fully editable after publication. This gives bloggers an opportunity to go back and correct mistakes days or even weeks later. Hopefully you will have spotted them beforehand, but it’s easy for a few to slip through, so schedule in a re-read to see what you can pick up.
One of the oldest tricks proofreaders use with printed documents is to cover up lines they have not yet read with a piece of paper. They then gradually move the paper down revealing more text as they need it. This stops the brain from reading ahead and forces it to focus in on the line it should be reading, not what is coming up next.
The best way I have found to emulate this on a screen is to zoom in, making the font bigger and then gradually zoom down line by line as you finish the previous one. It can also help to double space the line heights, but this means fiddling with the format of the document itself, so I will only tend to do this if I am reading a large body of text with no images.
Tip 13. Read More
Reading will really help you as a proofreader. Not only will it get you used to taking in large volumes of text without tiring, it will also help you to see common stylistic, punctuation and grammar use in a form that has been professionally proofread and edited.
There are also some books that will help to improve your proofreading skills:
- Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson
- New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
- Don’t Trust Your Spell Check by Dean Evans
- The Penguin Guide to Grammar by R.L. Trask
- Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage by Oliver Kamm
Tip 14. Be Consistent
Part of proofreading is also to review the style and formatting within a piece or article. There are lots of different ways to do this and some of it is personal choice, but the main thing is to be consistent and ensure the post does what it says it will.
Here are a few things to look out for:
- Is the use of bold, italics and underlining consistent? For example if you made the first heading bold, are they all bold?
- Are there full stops on captions and bullet points? If you have then stick to them, if not then make sure they are all removed.
- Is the space between images and the next block of text consistent throughout the post?
- Are the hyphens consistently sized throughout the post. Sometimes they will default to being the larger ‘em dash’.
- Do the hyperlinks go to where you think they should?
- Do any passages need highlighting to make the text easier to read? This is especially important in long pieces.
- Is the capitalisation in headers consistent?
Tip 15. Split up the Workload
A great tip for proofreading is to split the process into multiple passes. For example, you might use reverse reading to check for spelling, slow yourself down to focus in on the content and grammar, then finish by putting WordPress into preview mode for one last scan during which you also review the formatting and style.
This makes the task seem a lot more manageable and means your brain and eyes only have to focus in on one element of the proofreading process at a time.
Tip 16. Don’t Make it Worse!
Whilst proofreading blog posts the chances are you will make a lot of edits. When doing so make sure you are meticulous with your typing: you don’t want to fix one problem just to create another. Many of these changes are likely to be your last before publishing so there is no safety net here!
- KateProof.co.uk | Kate Haigh is a professional proofreader and copy-editor with a really interesting blog with a wealth of useful information about proofreading.
- Why Typos and Spelling Mistakes Don’t Really Matter | Lucy Kellaway offers an alternative view on the mistakes that creep into our writing.
- 15 Proofreading Tips from a BioMedical Editor | Making a mistake on a blog post is embarrassing but an error in a medical document could be catastrophic. So when a medical editor gives proofreading tips it’s probably worth listening!
- What is Proofreading? | Guidelines from the ‘Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ covering what to expect when hiring a proofreader.
- Words to Capitalise in Titles and Headings | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston gives some useful guidelines on how best to use capital letters in titles and headings.
- What should you focus on when you’re proofreading? | The Hedera House is run by Rosie Morley and is a fantastic tool for bloggers. In this article she focuses in on the key elements of proofreading and tips for completing them.
- The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens | An interesting article looking into the differences between reading on paper and on a screen.
- How Distractions Take Up More Time Than You Think | Focus is an important tool for blogging and proofreading productivity. This article highlights the sciences behind why it’s so important to minimise distractions whilst you are working.
I hope you have found this article useful and it has given you some ideas on how to improve your proofreading skills.
These 16 tips have covered some really practical skills and tools that can help you publish more professional content straight away. I would suggest picking a couple to start with and see if they help you and if they don’t then try something different. Just a few of these could make a big difference to your articles so choose the ones that work for you.
I’d love to hear how you get on so feel free to share your favourites in the comments below. If you have any tips of your own then I’d love to hear them.
P.S. I really hope I’ve have followed my own advice here of it could be the the most embarassing article i’ve Ever written!
P.P.S That last sentence was a joke 😉