5 tips for editing your copy
Typos – does anyone really care anymore? Txt spk may have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaurs (LOL), but in an age of WhatsApp and emojis, surely the odd spelling mistake won’t make a difference?
Turns out, they really do.
Charles Duncombe, an entrepreneur, found that when a single spelling mistake on a website was corrected, revenue per customer was twice as high. And this wasn’t a financial services site (or a dictionary shop) – it was selling tights.
If a single spelling mistake could have this effect, what about sites that are riddled with them? What about when the misspelled word spells something humorous, or rude?
Mistakes are inevitable – even the best writers make typos – but publishing them on your website isn’t. Here are 5 tips for editing your own copy.
1. Step away from the copy
This is my number one editing tip, not just for spotting mistakes, but for making your copy the best it can be.
Leave your copy for as long as you can. Ideally 48 hours. Within that time, you need to totally ignore it. Work on something else, don’t even think about that copy.
When you’ve left it as long as humanly possible, go back to your copy. This is where I suddenly start seeing not just glaring errors and typos, but places where I can cut sentences, or totally switch things around so they work 10 times better than they did before.
There doesn’t seem to be a time limit on this – if I revisited copy every week for a year I think I’d still be spotting ways to improve it (this could drive you slightly mad, so knowing when to call time and just get it out there is important!)
I understand that it’s not always possible to spend this long sitting on copy but even an hour makes a huge difference. If you’re working to a tight deadline, try to spend time on other tasks, have a lunch break, walk your dog, stick your head out of the window to look at anything other than the screen…
2. Read it backwards
Soooo annoying, but it really works. One of the reasons we don’t always spot our own errors is that our brains see what we expect to see. You know you meant to write “their” not “there” so when you come to that part your brain helpfully supplies the correct word.
Reading your text backwards removes those expectations and makes it much easier to see mistakes.
3. Read it out loud
This helps not just with spotting mistakes, but in making your copy more conversational and less stilted. If you’re tripping over it reading it out loud, it probably doesn’t flow as it should.
You can also have the screen reader do it for you, or ask a long-suffering partner (date night fun), or child (reading practice).
They won’t thank you, but your copy will.
4. Print it out
There’s something about having a paper copy in your hands and poring over it with a highlighter that makes your accept/except blunders glaringly obvious.
It’s so easy to skip over parts of long-form copy on a screen, much harder to do when you’re holding it in your hands, finger under each word.
Just recycle that paper afterwards – or take up origami – so it’s not wasted.
5. Hire a proofreader
I use Hayley Ramsey Editorial to polish up my copy for the simple reason that she’s much better at it than I am.
I send my copy to Hayley, she gets her red pen out and does her magic, and I send it to my clients knowing I won’t have to do damage control afterwards if they spot a mistake – or worse, they don’t and it gets published.
Using any of these tips will make your copy better and prevent potentially costly mistakes.
Using them all is best. Remember that editing is as much a part of writing as getting the first draft down, so don’t skimp on it.