Great. You’ve finished the first draft. Now comes one of the hardest parts, checking your own copy. A quick warning. There’s more to this than simply going through the text for spelling and grammar, although this is obviously critical.
If you’re self-employed or freelancing, there’s no getting around it. Copy checking, at every stage, is your responsibility. Make sure you factor in enough time to your estimates and invoices.
Here we go.
1. Is the document complete?
Check the following:
- Illustrations (if you’ve been asked to provide them).
- Social media posts (if you’ve been asked to provide them).
- Check word counts and make sure that you’re within the limits defined at the start of the project.
This is a good reason to write to a template. It shows both you and the client that the document is complete.
2. Fact checking
- Names and job titles.
- Company and product names.
- Statistics including benefit KPIs.
- Key dates.
- Sources: Include references and citations where necessary.
- Are all the above consistent with style and brand guidelines?
Include comments for other reviewers who can help out with missing information. But keep these to a minimum.
Be ruthless. Edit the copy with an unforgiving eye. If you’re having difficulty being objective, imagine checking somebody else’s article. Look out for clumsy sentence structure, redundant words and style guide errors:
- Reading aloud will help you identify copy that doesn’t flow smoothly.
- You are far more likely to subtract words than to add them. Most first drafts suffer from overwriting and are stuffed with adjectives and adverbs that obscure meaning. Cut them out.
- Shorten sentences to vary the pace of the copy and give paragraphs a greater punch.
- If a paragraph still doesn’t read clearly, break it down into the constituent clauses and check that each of them, in sequence, makes clear sense. Combine the revised text into a new paragraph.
- You may need to reorder paragraphs, but if you’ve done your research and followed the article plan, it shouldn’t be necessary.
4. Proofread (1)
A line-by-line, word-by-word, comma-by-comma check of the copy. Attention to detail is everything at this stage. Make sure you examine every element:
- Read the copy out loud to make sure you include every word and punctuation mark.
- Pause briefly at the end of each paragraph and page. Take longer breaks if you feel your concentration fading.
- Magnify the document so that it’s easier to read.
- Print out the copy and run a ruler down the page, pausing under every line as you read it.
- Don’t rely on spelling and grammar tools. They’re useful at the start of the checking process, but no substitute for a sharp pair of eyes.
5. Proofread (2)
As above but pay special attention to the corrections you made during step 4.
6. Flight check before sending to the client
- Make sure that corrections at step five were entered correctly.
- Read through a final time.
- Save the document with a title, version number and date.
7. Draft the client email.
Put some effort into the message that accompanies the draft.
- Provide context, with a summary of the original brief.
- Call out anything noteworthy in the copy, and don’t be afraid to highlight what works well.
- Remind the client to gather feedback in the most efficient way possible. I normally ask for all reviewers to consolidate their comments and tracked changes in a single document.
- Set a deadline for feedback so that you can go back and remind if needed.
- End up with an upbeat message. For example, “I enjoyed working on this and look forward to your feedback”.
Bonus tip: If you’re working with Google documents, familiarise yourself with the Revision History tool and don’t be afraid to intervene directly with the client if you see comments and suggestions veering out of control!
Bonus bonus tip: If you’re working on a longer document, take time to add a title page and a contents table. It gives the reader a sense of structure at first glance and also makes the document look more professional.