As marketers, we have unique challenges: we have to develop engaging, memorable creative quickly, usually involving multiple authors/editors/designers, in multiple versions for use on different platforms…while simultaneously juggling a number of other projects. In this kind of fast-paced environment, it takes a combination of smart, flexible processes, quick thinking, and high attention-to-detail to keep high-quality, error-free content going out the door. Here are some practices we’ve developed to keep our copy error-free, so that our marketing messages can really shine.
Know When to Review for What
Reviews tend to be done differently at different points in a project. For instance, there’s no point in doing a strict grammar check while you’re still trying to figure out what your message needs to communicate. That said, if you’re working with a client on copy, you’ll want to either 1) be sure you have it carefully proofed before it’s fully approved, or 2) get permission to make minor style and grammar fixes after the initial message is approved, so that you don’t have to send the copy back for unnecessary approvals, wasting your time and (more importantly) theirs.
It’s also helpful to clearly communicate with your team about what level of review is needed, so you know what kinds of changes to suggest. For instance, is the copy at the “fix errors only” stage, or is it okay to suggest style changes that improve flow and readability?
Get a Fresh Set of Eyes
When you’ve worked on something for long enough, you stop seeing it the same way. It’s easy to miss errors (sometimes even obvious ones) if you’re familiar enough with something. So, try to get a fresh set of eyes on creative before it goes out—ideally by someone who hasn’t worked on that content at all, or at least hasn’t seen it in a while. If that’s not possible, step away from the project for a bit, and take a look with your own fresh eyes later on.
Make at Least Two Passes (and Ideally Three)
One of the easiest ways to miss errors is to think you can look at a piece of content once and find every mistake. Even though it takes slightly longer, make at least two passes over the content: one high-level check (for clarity of message, narrative flow, tone, etc.), and one low-level check (for grammar mistakes, typos, minor style fixes, etc.). Reading it aloud for the low-level check is a great way to find errors. Finally, make one more pass to check that you didn’t accidentally introduce any errors while making your fixes. It might take a bit longer to proof, but you’ll save yourself time (and embarrassment) in the long run.
Have A Proofing Checklist
Our proofing checklists have been a lifesaver at Gravity Group. We have a general proofing checklist, as well as a checklist for each kind of content we produce regularly (e.g. newsletter, ppt presentation, print ad, commercial, blog post, etc.). This means that even someone who isn’t familiar with the content can proof it. It also makes it easier to proof well even under time pressure, or when you can’t do the entire proof in one sitting.
Take Advantage of Spellcheck
Even if you don’t create text in a program that contains spellcheck, you can still copy/paste that text into a program that does. I’ll often compose or copy/paste text I’m working on into Word to make sure it’s error-free before inserting it into a design. If you’re working in a browser, Grammarly (https://app.grammarly.com/) is a handy (and free) resource for spellchecking emails, blog posts, etc.
Make It into a Game – Can You Find the Errors?
When you really need to bring your proofing chops to a project, turn it into a game. Assume there will be errors and try to find them. If you don’t find any, the copy author wins. If you do, you win. Either way, the client (and the creative) wins.
Always Do One Final Review
Before something goes to a client or vendor, look it over one more time to make sure no errors have been introduced in the final stages of the project. It’s easy to find errors early on in a pdf proof, only to miss the ones that get introduced during export.
If You’re Not Sure, Look It Up
If you aren’t sure about a grammar rule, look it up. There are great resources online, and you can often find information in just a couple of minutes that will serve you in all your future proofing. Here are some resources on thorny style & grammar questions that I’ve found useful over the years:
- Capitalize My Title is a fast way to check that you’re capitalizing titles and headings correctly
- Here’s a good page on em-dashes and here’s a great explanation of the difference between hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes.
- Here’s a great reference on how to punctuate or capitalize bulleted lists.
- If you are going to do a lot of proofing, it can be worthwhile to choose a stylistic standard. For instance, the Chicago Manual of Style is a widely-used industry standard with a great online reference guide.
In the busy world of marketing, the best way to avoid overwhelm is to work smarter, not harder. Taking the time to review content effectively and well is one of those investments that truly pays off in the end, resulting in higher-quality content, less time wasted on last-minute fixes, and ultimately, better client relationships.