Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Looking to sharpen your editing and proofreading skills? Here’s a quick guide for how to edit and proofread writing like a pro (as told by an editor).
Did you know that editing and proofreading are two very different things?
Editing involves someone making changes and suggestions that will improve the overall quality and flow of a piece writing, focusing on language and tone of voice.
An editor’s job is to make sure the content is consistent, the language used makes sense and flows, and the readability of the piece and structure is the best it can possibly be.
Proofreading, on the other hand, is focused purely on picking up errors in writing, such as mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation and the like. It's the final stage of preparing a piece of writing to be published, and should be completed after editing has taken place.
Editing and proofreading should be done separately on a piece of content, and here’s how to carry out each stage like a professional.
How to edit like a pro (5 steps)
Step 1: Re-read the brief
Before diving in with editing, it’s always a good idea to reacquaint yourself with the brief and subject matter so you’re familiar with the purpose of the piece of writing, the style, and the key information that needed to be included. Reading the brief will ensure this is fresh in your mind, so you can make mindful edits to improve the copy.
Step 2: Read the content from start to finish
Read the piece of writing in its entirety first, without making any changes. While this is easier said than done, reading the copy through will enable you to understand how everything fits together, and get a grasp on the piece of content as a whole, before making any edits.
Once you’ve read it, ask yourself:
Does it fit the brief and goal of the piece? Does it do what it says it should do?
What SEO keywords and phrases was it meant to be targeting, and does it do this?
Does it flow well, or does it need to be structured differently?
Does it contain enough information to meet the purpose of the piece?
Does the tone of voice used make sense for the piece, and is it consistent?
Make notes for necessary changes based on your findings from the questions above.
Then, it’s time to edit.
Step 3: Edit the structure
Based on your findings, make edits to the structure of the piece. Look at the structure of the piece as a whole, and ensure it flows nicely.
Have you ever had someone tell you a story and they kept going off on tangents that didn't seem to be all that relevant to the story? It's distracting and confusing, right?
If that's happening in the copy, be sure to remove it so you don't lose your reader's attention. Give them what they came for, and don't waste their time.
Add in information that readers may need in order to better understand the content, and is needed for SEO to make the content more comprehensive. Are there frequently asked questions about the subject you could include? Have you provided enough information to satisfy the reader?
Then, go through and condense it by removing anything that doesn't add to the piece, isn't relevant or is repetitive.
Add logical sub-headings to the content to differentiate different key ideas, using H2 and H3 tags.
Find out more about heading tags: How to correctly use heading tags for SEO.
Once you’re happy with the overall structure of the piece, it’s time to edit the language and writing style.
Step 4: Line edit
Line editing literally means editing line-by-line to make sure that the copy is consistent and language is simple and enjoyable to read, as well as concise and free from unnecessary ‘fluff’ and jargon.
This means tightening up the copy, making sure the sentences flow and are using the right words to convey the message.
When line editing, ask yourself:
Is the tone of voice and point of view appropriate for the audience, and is it consistent?
Is an active voice being used throughout?
Have the right words been chosen to express ideas in the copy? Could simpler or more suitable words be used instead?
Could sentences be more concise? Could jargon or ‘fluff’ be removed to improve readability?
Do the sentences flow nicely?
Has language been used appropriately?
Once you’ve finished line editing, it’s time to work on the introduction and conclusion.
Step 5: Edit the introduction and conclusion
It’s a good idea to leave the editing of the introduction and conclusion until last. These are the most important parts of the piece, and need extra attention and care to get right.
Make the introduction attention grabbing, and ensure it hooks readers and makes them want to keep reading. Provide value for the reader, and communicate how the piece of content is going to solve a problem they’re facing, or make their life better as a result.
Don’t waste their time – get straight to the point and reassure them that they’re in the right place, but don’t bore them to death. They should want to continue reading and feel inspired and excited to do so.
Make sure the conclusion has a clear call to action (CTA) that fits the brief goal. It should provide value for the reader, and give them an onward journey that makes sense for the piece of content.
Think about your sales funnel – now that they've read this piece of content, where should we send them next to guide them down our sales funnel? What would they need to find out about next in order to make a purchase? Make sure you include a logical onward journey in your CTA.
Remember: Content marketing is all about providing actual value for your reader.
How to proofread like a pro
Now that you’ve finished editing the piece of content, it’s time to proofread.
Proofreading is important because letting these little mistakes get through can have a big impact on how a reader views your brand. Typos in your web content immediately cause you to lose credibility.
When proofreading, check the copy for:
errors in language.
To do this effectively, when proofreading the copy, ask yourself:
Are there any spelling errors?
Is the correct spelling being used for the intended country, such as US or UK English?
Have full stops, commas, colons and semicolons been used correctly?
Have words that are similar but have different meanings, such as there, their and they’re, been used correctly?
Have quotation marks and apostrophes been used appropriately?
Are there any double spaces, particularly after full stops?
If you’re unsure whether grammar, punctuation or language is used properly or not, look it
up in Google (there's no shame in checking!). There are plenty of online forums for this type of thing, and you’ll be able to find the answer you’re looking for with a little bit of research.
Also, make sure you check your brand style guide (if you have one), as that should include the most common questions about writing style that will ensure your edits are consistent with your brand’s writing guidelines and tone of voice.
Proofread with fresh eyes
Once you think you’re finished proofreading on the computer, print out the copy and proofread again on paper.
It’s a good idea to have a break before doing another proofread, so you have time to disconnect from the content. Otherwise, since your brain is already familiar with the copy you’re more likely to skim over it and not pick up errors.
Get someone else to proofread
Having another pair of eyes read over the copy will ensure any pesky little mistakes are picked up.
As I mentioned earlier, the more familiar we are with a piece of content, the more inclined our brains are to skim over the finer details of it. Therefore, having someone else give it a final proof will ensure any silly errors don’t slip through the cracks.
Proof it baby, one more time!
I hope you read that in your head to the tune of Britney Spears’ One More Time.
I know it sounds like we’re kind of going overboard on the proofreading, but make sure you proofread the piece of content one last time before publishing. You'd be surprised by how little silly errors can go unnoticed because our brains are searching for more complex mistakes.
This is especially important if you’ve made any little changes to the previous version, as one small change can often create readability or grammatical errors.
Check it. Just in case…
And now you’re done!
So there you have it, simple instructions for how to edit and proofread copy like a pro.
Now there’s no excuse for publishing unedited content filled with fluff, jargon and typos because you’ve perfected your editor’s eye!
If you found this guide useful, be sure to check out my other guides, including how to brief a freelance writer so you get the best value for your money and high-quality content, or how to optimise a blog post for SEO so your blog content can get discovered in search engines.
Looking for a freelance copy editor?
Do you have copy that needs to be proofread and edited before publishing?
I, Janelle from ContentQueen, have more than seven years’ experience in copywriting and editing, and I can cast an editor's eye over your copy and help it to reach its full potential, including recommended SEO meta titles and descriptions.
Whether you have one page of copy to proofread, or 100 pages, I will ensure your content is error-free, clear, and adds as much value as possible for its intended audience. I work remotely on a freelance basis, and charge an affordable hourly rate.
Find out more: Copywriting & Editing Services.
Get in touch via my contact page for your free quote.