Simple Tips for Editing and Proofreading Copy

Editing and proofreading tend to go together. Yet they are distinct activities, as you’ll see below. A comprehensive discussion is beyond the scope of this post. Instead, I’ll review how editing and proofreading apply in a variety of situations.

The difference between editing and proofreading

Editing involves looking for better ways to convey the information. As such, this process is focused on style and substance. The objective is clear and concise information so the material is easier to read and understand.

Proofreading, on the other hand, entails reviewing the copy for factual errors, spelling errors (typos) and grammatical mistakes. Spelling and grammar issues can be rather obvious; factual errors less so.

Always review your copy thoroughly so you can improve it through editing and, perhaps, proofreading as well.

Improve your material through editing

1. Tighten your copy. Because most writers are rather wordy, an important first step in editing involves cutting material. Shorten the sentences and paragraphs. Substitute common words for long, obscure words. If you tend to write in the passive voice, change some of those sentences to active voice. That will tighten your copy and give it snap.

It can be really easy to tighten the text. Look at these examples:
A. Due to the fact that….
Correction: Because….

B. 9:00 a.m. in the morning….
Correction: 9 a.m…. (Dropped the “:00” due to AP style. Your call on that.)

C. Free of charge/Giving away for free.
Correction: Free/Giving away.

D. He made the decision to…
Correction: He decided to…

E. She had a conversation with…
Correction: She spoke with…

In some cases, the correction cuts only a word or two. But that can add up throughout an article. More important is the lesson: teaching yourself to write efficiently.

2. Use bullet points to break up the copy. A list is easier to read and makes those important points stand out.

Before signing the contract, remember to thoroughly read every paragraph, recalculate the values to ensure they agree with your figures, and ask for the extended warranty.


Before signing the contract, remember to:
*  Thoroughly read every paragraph.
* Recalculate the values to ensure they agree with your figures.
* Ask for the extended warranty.

Notice how much easier that is to read?

3. Minimize industry jargon and acronyms/abbreviations. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. It depends on your audience.

If your audience is familiar with your topic, feel free to use acronyms and industry terms. That can be an efficient way to convey your message.

For other audiences, use common terms as often as possible. When you use an industry term or acronym, explain it on first reference. Most if not all difficult topics can be written for the lay reader. It takes some skill, but when done well, is very satisfying.

4. Tighten your copy by changing the verb conjugation (format). In lieu of a lengthy explanation, let’s review some examples.

A. I’m loving it!
To: I love it!

B. I’m in need of a ….
To: I need a …..

C. I have forwarded…
To: I forwarded…

Notice that the revised version is shorter and concise. In a word, better. The verb forms used in the examples have their place; use them when needed. But watch for these kinds of miscues in your copy. Edit accordingly for improved text.

Improve your material with proofreading

1. Factual errors. They aren’t always apparent, especially when you receive the material from another person. While interviewing, confirm the spelling of the name and any other detail you’re not sure of. Perform an internet search — “google it” — to confirm. Sometimes you need to call the source to verify the information.

Is the person’s name O’Brien or O’Brian? (Or, maybe, Jones?) Did the incident occur in Minneapolis or Madison? And in 1980 or 1982?

I use these hypothetical examples to emphasize the importance of getting your facts right. Your copy may be clear and concise — written and edited well — but if you let an error slip by, it can be really embarrassing. And tarnish your image as a writer.

2. Spelling errors. Spellcheck is nice, but it’s not fail safe. A good way to catch typos is to read the copy aloud. (This helps with editing as well.) A good reference guide, such as a dictionary or word book, is invaluable. Chances are you have difficulty spelling certain words. Always look up a word you’re not sure of.

Patience is a virtue in most aspects of life. The same is true for proofreading. Avoid rushing through the material. Read it once or twice, then set it aside. Come back to the piece later. You may spot an error that slipped by before. You may also think of a better angle on a particular sentence or paragraph (meaning, your editing cap was on, too).

3. Grammatical errors. Probably the most common one I see involves your and you’re. Specifically, writing your when you’re is called for. Let’s review the difference.

You’re is short for you are or you were. Your is a pronoun used to show ownership.

See how they’re used properly in this sentence:

You’re going to love your new sofa.

4. Watch for the improper use of the comma. A complete sentence requires a period or other punctuation mark that properly sets it apart from the text that follows. I see this type of error a lot:

The software is loading, please be patient.

It should be:

The software is loading. Please be patient.

5. Know the language well. Read a lot. Write a lot. Use reference guides frequently. Becoming a talented writer is a learned skill. Over time it becomes easier to write clean copy. And the amount of time needed to review your material shortens.

Editing and proofreading allow you to produce material that is enjoyed by your readers and makes you proud. Write often so you can continue to hone your editing and proofreading skills.

Tom Fuszard



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