Proofread Your Way to Perfection: 6 Essential Steps to Polishing Your Copy to a Glossy Sheen

You’re finished! Your sales letter is finally done. It’s ready to submit to your client. Or is it?

Have you proofread it thoroughly?

I’m a copywriter – and for a long time, I considered proofreading the most tedious, jeez-I’d-rather-do-anything-but part of good writing. But I’ve learned it’s what puts a jeweler’s shine on your work.

Granted, it’s difficult to proof your own work. I’m as hesitant as any writer to trust myself to pick up all my miscues. After all, I wrote, revised, and rewrote the thing. But it’s that closeness that can blind you to your mistakes.

You can’t rely on your spell-checker and grammar-checker to handle what your brain should be doing. These software devices are handy, but they’re not foolproof. And they don’t usually detect missing phrases or words or clumsily worded passages.

You MUST proofread your writing. Not only will you discover typos and other problems, proofing gives you the chance to dress up your copy and make it even more compelling. Done properly … you might even enjoy it.

Here are 6 tips to help you do the best possible job:

  1. Don’t Just “Fit It In”

    Proofreading needs to have a prominent place in your schedule. Block out a specific time so you can give it the attention it deserves. By doing that, you’re more likely to do an effective job … and you might even look forward to it.

  2. Proofing Is NOT Revising … or Rewriting

    Get the letter exactly where you want it – as close as possible to your finished product – before you proofread. Then, when you proofread, don’t even think about making any major changes. If you do, you’ll lose track of what you were trying to do and end up doing yet another rewrite.

    Simply circle problem areas and go back to them when you’ve completed the entire proofreading process.

  3. First, Proofread Grammar and Word Usage

    Start by reading each sentence word for word. When you’re done reading it word for word, reread the sentence as a whole. When you’re done with all the sentences in a paragraph, go back and read the paragraph as a whole.

    Of course, you don’t have to adhere strictly to classroom rules of grammar when writing promotional copy. But make sure you don’t make any obvious blunders that your reader is likely to notice. For example, make sure you’ve used the correct forms of “there,” their,” and “they’re” … “you’re” and “your” … “its” and “it’s.” And be aware of any inconsistencies as to voice, person, and tense … which could confuse your reader.

  4. Next, Proofread for Structure and Content

    Does the piece make sense? Do the thoughts flow in some sort of logical order? Are important ideas connected … or do they float freely, apart from one another?

    You can often fix structural problems by simply moving sentences, paragraphs, and sections around to make the piece tighter.

  5. Read It Again Like You’re Seeing It for the First Time

    Be your prospect. Fold your arms and adopt a suitably skeptical scowl. It’s you against the person trying to sell you something. When you get to the end of the letter – to the call to action – honestly ask yourself, “Would I respond to this? Would I buy this product?”

  6. One Last Thing You MUST Do

    Read the whole thing one more time … aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it to you. What you’re listening for spots that will bring your reader to a grinding halt – cumbersome passages that just don’t sound right … phrases or sentences where the tongue stumbles.

You should always strive to turn out copy that is absolutely flawless. Every nick and scratch in your copy is a negative reflection on your professionalism. Misspelled or misused words could make the difference between a sales letter that’s rolled out and one that’s discarded.

[Bruce is just one of many AWAIers who will be returning to Bootcamp for a second, third, or, in some cases, fourth time. Click here to see why:]

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 23, 2006

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