Deborah

Deborah

Jan11

Top 3 proofreading tips

From time to time, I get hired to proofread the final copy of a document before it’s published. Usually, it’s a document I’ve never seen as I have not been a part of the writing, editing or creative process.

So why do I get asked to jump in at this final stage? It’s because proofreading is an essential part of the writing process  and the importance of it is often overlooked.

Whether you’re writing reports for the board, copy for a website, posts for a blog or even an email to a colleague, proofreading is an essential part of any messaging. Smartphone auto correct mistakes may get laughed off, but the reality is that spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors simply make your work look sloppy and unprofessional.

There’s no better proofreader than a fresh set of eyes; someone who is likely to pick out what your eyes have glazed over. But, if you can’t get a fresh set of eyes, here are my top three tips to improve your proofreading skills and to strengthen any and everything you write.

1) Read, re-read and then read it again. Yup, three times. It may seem like a lot, but think of the process this way – read it once to review the content, read it a second time to scrutinize every word and grammatical mark and a third time to make it perfect. Ideally, give yourself a break between each read through so your eyes don’t glaze over the same mistakes. Sometimes I even print a document for one read through because it really does look different on paper.

2) Be consistent. Let’s be honest with ourselves – we don’t all know every single grammar rule off the top of our heads. And some rules are not quite rules, they’re suggestions. If you’re not quite sure how to capitalize a title, when to use a hyphen or when to spell out numbers, for example, simply make sure that whatever you choose is used consistently. Don’t be spelling out numbers at the start of a paragraph and writing the same ones numerically at end of it.

3) Look it up. It helps to have a good dictionary and/or style guide by your side (when writing and when proofreading). Using free online ones are fine, but personally I’m partial to the real deal and stick close to my hardcover Canadian Oxford Dictionary and my Canadian Press Style Guide.

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Dec05

How often should I blog?

The most common question from small business owners is actually not the headline above. Instead, it’s “why should I bother blogging, anyway?’ The answer to that question is quite simple — blogging is one of the most powerful marketing tools. Think about how often you update your website with fresh, content that says who you are, what you do, and, most importantly, what you’re good at. Probably not all that often.

By having a blog, you’re creating that fresh content. In those posts, you’re using your SEO buzzwords on a regular basis, which means your website will rank higher in organic search engine results. And, by using this platform to showcase your expertise in your industry, you’re positioning yourself as an expert to both clients and potential clients.

Now that we’ve established the reason for having a blog, how often should you update it? That’s a trickier answer.

The short answer is the more often you do, the better because the more fresh content you create, the better your chances of being found by Google (or any other search engine). But for most small business owners, that’s probably an unrealistic answer.

The long answer is that the number of blogs you write per month depends on the size of your company, your industry, your sales and/or marketing strategy and, most importantly, what you’re hoping to achieve. This article, which quotes a HubSpot study, suggests blogging 4 times a week to achieve maximum benefits. And while that may be an effective strategy for a big company with a big budget and a big marketing strategy, it’s not necessarily an ideal plan for a small business owner looking to proportionally grow its business.

I like to suggest blogging at least twice per month — which is what I strive for here. Twice a month is enough to gain SEO benefits and showcase your expertise to customers and potential customers while not becoming a burdensome exercise.

There’s no one size fits all approach to blogging. What’s important is that you find a routine that works for you and your business’s goals and you stick to it. Having a regularly updated blog (whatever your ‘regular’ is) will only bring good things for your business.

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Nov16

5 signs that your website may not be from this century

Your website is a big part of your business’s image. In fact, your website is probably the first place potential customers will look to find out more about who you are and what you do. And if it was built once upon a time and then left to wither away online, it is most definitely not allowing you to put your best foot forward.

But sadly this scenario is not uncommon. Small businesses often create a website because they understand the importance of having a presence online, but the pressing day-to-day demands of running their business means that website maintenance gets pushed to the side.

If your website has any of these blasts from past design eras, it’s a pretty clear sign that your website needs some attention.

  • It has more copy than images. The more copy the better is an old-fashioned website design theory. Huge swaths of copy blocks would be included on every page to tell customers anything and everything they need to know about the company. The problem is that no one read past the first line. Today, website copy needs to be short, sweet and to the point. An entire paragraph worth of copy can be condensed into just a sentence or two. Better yet, multiple pages of copy can likely be boiled down to a single page.
  • It has no images. Once upon a time, loading images on web browsers was a painful experience and so websites that wanted to be seen and heard simply avoided them. Now, no images to draw the viewer’s eye are a signal for visitors to click on the big red ‘x’ at the top of the page. 
  • It was created in Adobe Flash, plays music automatically or has scrolling text bars. These three concepts scream early 2000s web design. If you’re still doing it, stop now.
  • It’s not mobile-friendly. It’s a mobile world and smartphones are quickly becoming the primary technology used by consumers to surf the web. If your website doesn’t respond accordingly, you’re losing eyeballs faster than you can count. 
  • There are links that lead to now defunct web pages. A while ago, I wrote about fact checking, and this applies to every link on your website. If your links are leading to defunct pages, it will frustrate visitors and send them running to your competitors.
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Oct26

Five copy editing tips to make you look like a pro

Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit’.

As you can see, I'm pretty hard on myself when editing my own work. This was version one of today's blog post.

As you can see, I’m pretty hard on myself when editing my own work. This was version one of today’s blog post.

And he’s absolutely right. A good writer uses a first draft to pour all of their thoughts and ideas onto a page. It isn’t about worrying over style and structure, perfect sentences and perfect punctuation; it’s about getting the ideas out on paper in a somewhat cohesive manner.

As a good editor, you then transform that first text into a powerful work. It’s not always an easy process and, if done right, can be almost as time-consuming as writing the first draft.

Walk away. Unless you’re under deadline, when you’re done writing let it be for at least a day. A break will turn your good ideas into great ones.

Detach yourself. As the writer, you’re emotionally invested. As the editor, you have to release yourself from your writer ego. As the editor, assume that what the writer-you wrote is terrible and go about making it right.

Try a fresh perspective. I have a non-environmentally friendly bad habit – when I edit my work, I do it with pen and paper. A different view allows for you to be more critical of your work.

Don’t rush it. Editing means scrutinizing every word, sentence and paragraph. It means asking yourself ‘why do I need to know this?’ after every sentence and it means always trying to find a better way to write it.

Proofread. You’ve rewritten and revised but you’re still not done. Now you have to make it perfect. Read every word slowly and out loud if you can. Did you skip an ‘at’ here or a ‘a’ there? Did you write ‘their’ when you meant to write ‘there’? These are the little things that you may have overlooked but your readers most certainly won’t. If possible, get someone else to do this for you because by now, you practically know the piece by heart and you’ll read what you meant to write, not what’s actually written.

Taking the time to properly edit and proofread your writing has a huge impact on your work. In your first pass – the writing stage – the thoughts and concept you’re trying to get across may not present themselves as you had hoped. Editing gives you the ability to rephrase those thoughts.

In writing, you only get one chance to get your point across – if it’s not perfect, your reader will simply stop reading and move on.

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Oct14

Proofreading 101

I don’t know where this comic originated, but its message says it all.

When I think back to my high school English classes, I remember my teachers telling us to read and then re-read everything before we turned it in. My mother is also a former high school English teacher, so that advice was offered at the homework table as well.

But it is good advice, and it is advice that shouldn’t get left behind in that high school English class. It’s advice that should be followed whether you’re writing reports for the board, copy for your website, posts for your blog or even an email to a colleague. Proofreading is an essential part of any messaging. Spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors look sloppy and unprofessional.

Here are a few simple tips to improve your proofreading skills and to strengthen any and everything you write.

1)      Read, re-read and then read it again. Yup, three times. It may seem like a lot, but think of the process this way – read it once to review the content, read it a second time to scrutinize every word and grammatical mark and a third time to make it perfect. Ideally, give yourself a break between each read through so your eyes don’t glaze over the same mistakes. Sometimes I even print a document for one read through because it really does look different on paper.

2)      Ask someone else to read it. There’s no better proofreader than a fresh set of eyes who can pick out what your eyes have glazed over.

3)      Be consistent. Let’s be honest with ourselves here – we don’t all know every single grammar rule off the top of our heads. And some rules are not quite rules, they’re suggestions. If you’re not quite sure how to capitalize a title, when to use a hyphen or when to spell out numbers, simply make sure that whatever you choose is used consistently throughout the document. So if you decide to spell the numbers one through nine – make sure it stays that way.

4)      Make sense of it all. Do you understand what you’re trying to say? Because if you’re not sure, no one else will be either.

5)      Look it up. It helps to have a good dictionary or style guide by your side (when writing and when proofreading). Using free online ones are fine, but I’m partial to my hardcover Canadian Oxford Dictionary and my Canadian Press Style Guide.

 

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Oct01

Top 10 things to write about when you don’t know what to write about

blogAt some point or another, almost every blog falls into the same trap – not being updated.

I get it. It can be tough coming up with ideas on a regular basis and even tougher to dedicate the time to writing a post on a regular basis. (That’s why you need me to regularly write your blog, so I’ll be too busy writing yours to write on mine.)

So, when you suddenly realize that that blog page on your website has been sitting around idly for months, here’s my top 10 list of ideas to get the creative juices flowing and get the words writing.

1. Review your greatest hits. Take a look at your popular posts from the past and bring one back to life with a fresh or updated perspective.

2. Write part II. Again, take a look through your archived posts and write an update to a problem or situation you were facing at the time of writing.

3. Write a commentary. Read other blogs, newspapers or trade publications and comment on one of the articles.

4. Share your adventures. Recently attended an industry-related event? Tell everyone about it.

5. Do a review. Review a product you love or the latest book you read.

6. Answer questions. Feel like you’re always answering the same questions day in and day out? Then compile those questions and do a Q&A. Better yet, turn this idea into a regular post, answering 2 or 3 common questions every time.

7. Talk about your mistakes. Be honest and talk about where you went wrong and what you learned from it.

8. Use Google Alerts. With Google Alerts, you can set up alerts for topics and subtopics in your niche to see what’s making news and what others are talking about. And once you know what’s going on, you can write about.

9. Ask your community. When you’re stuck for a fresh idea, lean on your network by asking your Twitter or LinkedIn community what they want to see on the blog? You’ll be surprised at how many topics your community was hoping you’d one day write about.

10. Write a top 10 list. Lists are always a hit. You read this one after all, didn’t you?

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Sep08

Top 5 grammar mistakes to avoid making

grammar-390029_1920For many people, thinking about grammar when writing can be an annoying technicality. But writing well includes good grammar.

Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the common grammar mistakes I see when copy editing and proofreading. They’re the little ‘technicality’ ones that I too have made at least a hundred times.

Who vs. Whom

‘Who’ is used when it is the subject of a verb – so words like I, he, she, we and they. ‘Whom’ is used when you’re talking about an object of a clause – so words like me, him, her and them.

When you’re trying to decide whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’, ask yourself if the answer to the question would be ‘he’ or ‘him’.

Example: They are checking out who is viewing their profiles and who is connected to whom.

Which vs. That

‘That’ is a restrictive pronoun vital to the noun to which it’s referring. It binds together both parts of a sentence, neither of which you can get rid of. ‘Which’ introduces a relative clause and allows qualifiers to a sentence that may not be essential.

My favourite example comes from the Grammar Girl website:

Example: Gems that sparkle often elicit forgiveness.
Diamonds, which are expensive, often elicit forgiveness.

Semi-colon use

Semi-colons separate two related thoughts. Most commonly, they separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other  thoughts that could stand on their own as sentences if you want them to.

One reason you might choose to use a semicolon instead of a period is if you wanted to add variety to your sentence structure, for example, if you thought you had too many short, choppy sentences in a row. And often, a comma is mistakenly used in its place.

Example: You are probably well versed on social networking; lots of people log into some of the popular social networking sites every day.

Em dash use

An em dash actually replaces other forms of punctuation. In informal writing, an em dash can replace a comma, a semi-colon, a colon or parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption or an abrupt change of thought.

Example: In the last few years, we stopped staring at the stars – even closed the doors to our flagship store in 2012 – and started staring at the sun.

i.e. vs. e.g.

These two are not interchangeable. The simple way to remember the difference is that i.e. means ‘In other words’ and e.g. means ‘for example’. I=In other words and E=Example.

Want more grammar tips? Here’s my favourite website.

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Aug28

The blog is a powerful marketing tool

Blogging is one of the most valuable tools that businesses have to engage with customers. A blog positions you as a knowledge expert and allows you to share the knowledge, opinions and expertise that are relevant to your industry.

Creating blog content increases the likelihood of your website being found in a search engine query. Why is that? Well, think about how often you update your website – probably not all that often. But every time you write a blog post, you are creating a new indexed page on your website and that’s one more cue for Google (or whatever search engine is looking) that your website is active. Every new indexed page is one more opportunity for your website to show up in an organic search.

Aside from being discovered by search engines, a blog also helps you get discovered via social media. Every time you write a blog post, you can share it on your social media sites – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc. – and every one of your friends or followers can not only click on the link to read your post but can also share it with their friends and followers, exposing your business to a new audience that doesn’t yet know you.

Between the two, the blog is a powerful marketing tool that positions your business as authentic and knowledgeable.

So, if you’re not blogging, it’s time to get started or get left behind.

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Aug06

A tip for better proofreading: Fact check

correcting-1351629_1920Having a fresh set of eyes do a ‘cold read’ proofread of any document before it’s published is always a good idea. You don’t need a professional proofreader (although that’s not a bad idea either!) but ideally you need someone who has never before read the copy.

Why? Because they’re less likely to read what you intended to write rather than what’s actually on the page. They’re likely to catch the ‘a’ instead of ‘an’, the missing comma or the extra word in a sentence.

A good proofreader will focus on correcting minor grammar, usage and style mistakes while dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. But a great proofreader will also fact check and cross-reference a document.

When I take on a proofreading job, here are a few of the basic fact checking rules I live by. This is by no means a definitive list, but it’s a start.

1) If an address, phone number or email address is mentioned, check it. These are all important pieces of information and cannot be wrong – and yet, sometimes they are. I’ve seen ready-to-print brochures listing a company’s old address, and invites to an AGM with an incorrect address for the conference centre.

2) If names are listed, check it. Board and executive members are usually easily searchable on a company’s website for cross-referencing but if not, or if you have other names that you can’t check, flag it with the writer to double-check the spelling.

3) If it involves math, check it. Do the addition, subtraction, multiplication or division yourself. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve found pie graphs that don’t equal, or round up to, 100.

4) If it refers to a number of items, check it. Again, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve read a headline that refers to a certain number of items and yet, the copy has too many or too few items.

5) If another page or chapter is referenced, check it. Large reports are often written in sections and it’s common for page references to be incorrect, particularly when it comes to the table of contents. I’ve found more page reference errors in the table of contents than I can count.

6) If a date is mentioned, check it. Nothing will undermine credibility like having to print a revision (or post a revised statement) to correct the date of an important company event or misstating the date of a historic event. So, even if you’re certain of a date listed, check it.

7) If something seems odd, anything at all, check it. And if you can’t check it, flag it with the writer.

Inaccuracy in a published piece – whether in print or online – hurts everyone’s credibility. And while we’re all only human, fact checking while proofreading will save you from making small, yet embarrassing, mistakes.

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