10 Tips for Keeping Your Digital Copy Clean

Kelly Saxton, associate director of publications and managing editor for Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Development, Marketing and Communications program, tells us why online publishing is no excuse for sloppy copy. Follow her practical ideas to keep your stories mistake free.

In today’s publishing environment — daily Web updates, fresh rotating content on your home page, blogs — does copy even pass an editor’s or proofreader’s eyes? Are spelling, punctuation, and style the sacrificial lambs of the electronic age?

I asked some current and former colleagues for tips on how they manage error-free copy. I didn’t get a lot of feedback; however, one person did suggest: “Don’t ‘F’ it up.” Great, thanks for playing.

But there’s some truth and guidance in that comment.

We should not let the pace of publishing keep us from putting out good, clean copy. What is it about online publishing that permits sloppiness and errors that would never be allowed in print?

So how do we keep from “F-ing it up”? Hopefully — or as a proofreader would correct — “I hope” the following reminders will help.

1. A Stitch in Time. When time is of the essence, having someone read your copy in sections as you write can save precious minutes. You can input initial corrections while other sections are read or while a proofer reads the finished copy.

2. Proof in hard copy. Whether it’s the freedom from monitor glare, the angle at which we read on paper, whatever — mistakes often are spotted more easily in hard copy.

3. Size Matters. In hard copy or on a monitor, increase the size of the type — and even change the font. Small things, such as dropped end punctuation, loom larger in 16- or 18-point type. And because serif fonts are easier on the language-processing parts of the brain, switching to san serif for a round of proofing will reduce the tendency for your eyes to skip over words.

4. Focus on prepositions. Because the brain processes nouns and verbs first and determines meaning, misspelled prepositions are often ignored as the brain and eyes move on.

5. Check Spelling Early and Often. Spell checking at an early stage during writing (in addition to doing it as a final step) will pinpoint problem words or phrases and help you to spell them correctly and consistently thereafter.

6. Search and Destroy. Take advantage of the search function, especially for names of people, places, institutions, or uncommon terminology, to compare all instances within the text. Search also can be used to ensure consistency of such things as “says” versus “said” or other stylistic concerns.

7. Check It. Fact check, especially proper names and titles. Do not assume the writer (or a previous proofer) verified it. And never rely on Web searches or random Web pages for verification.

8. Say What? Read the copy aloud or with someone else reading along. Many writers do this to improve construction and flow, but it is also useful for slowing down the eyes for sharper focus on each word.

9. One Thing at a Time. If you have time, proofread elements separately. Check spelling, and then focus on punctuation, headlines, subheads, etc. (see Tip #10).

10. Time It. Clean copy takes time. Making a posting deadline at the expense of a proofread should not be an option.

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