A website that’s littered with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes is detrimental to a business. Not only does it look unprofessional to visitors but it’s frustrating for them, as they have to put more effort into understanding what they are reading. Well-written copy reads smoothly, whereas mistakes ruin the flow. And this can lead to a higher bounce rate (the number of visitors who leave the site after visiting just one page) and fewer conversions. If a customer can’t trust the content, they will be less likely to trust what’s being sold.
Not only that, but search engines will be unable to determine what the site is about. This means it can’t be indexed appropriately and will be less likely to appear in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Spelling, punctuation and grammar may not come easily to everyone, but it is important to double-check everything before you publish it. Apps like Grammarly and Hemingway can help you do this, but they don’t spot every mistake, so you should read over everything again yourself — or ask a professional proofreader to check it for you.
In this guide, we’ll explain the difference between proofreading and editing and list nine things to look out for when checking your copy. We’ll also share some tips to help make proofreading and editing your content as easy as possible.
When proofreading and editing your website content, some of the things to look out for are apostrophes, formatting, long sentences, passive voice, spelling and grammar, tone, typos, unnecessary phrases and unverified facts.
Some tips to help you do this include leaving some time between writing and reading so you review it with a fresh pair of eyes, reading the copy aloud and in a different format to help you spot mistakes more easily, ensuring you are in a quiet environment so you can concentrate better and making use of resources like dictionaries and thesauruses.
If you want to know more about how to proofread and edit your work, keep reading.
What’s the difference between proofreading and editing?
Proofreading and editing occur at different stages of the copywriting process. Editing is where you make larger, structural changes, such as rewriting sentences and reordering paragraphs and is usually done first, while proofreading happens once all the editing has been done. Proofreading is about correcting any outstanding errors, such as typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
Nine things to look out for when proofreading and editing
When proofreading and editing your work, here are some common things to look out for:
One of the most common mistakes people make with apostrophes is using them for plurals, for example: “Cake’s for every occasion”.
Apostrophes are also often misused when it comes to words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings. For example: “It’s sunny, just like the weather forecast predicted” and “the weather forecast was correct in its sunny prediction” or “you’re going to have a great holiday according to the weather forecast” and “your holiday will be even better thanks to the good weather”.
While an app like Grammarly will usually pick up on errors like this, it is important to have a good understanding of the correct usage of apostrophes to ensure that nothing is missed:
- To express ownership — “In a year’s time” (singular), “in six years’ time” (plural), “children’s shoes”, “Sarah’s shoes”. It is worth noting here that where a name ends in an “s”, you can either add the apostrophe “s” or just add the apostrophe and omit the second “s”. For example: “Tess’s shoes” can also be “Tess’ shoes”.
- To shorten a word — “It is” or “it has” become “it’s”, “should have” becomes “should’ve”, “who is” or “who has” become “who’s”. Note that the word “who’s” should not be used interchangeably with the word “whose”, which is the possessive form of “who” (for example, “whose are these shoes?”).
Whether or not your formatting is correct is mainly down to your in-house style guide, but the key thing to remember is consistency. Some of the things to bear in mind include:
- Bold and italics — In which instances do you use them?
- Headings — Which size headings do you use where?
- Spacing — Are there any missing or extra spaces between words or after a full stop, or inconsistent gaps between paragraphs?
3. Long sentences
There is a time and a place for long sentences — in poetry or academic research, for example — but in most instances, sentences should be short and snappy. This is because pulling off a long sentence isn’t easy (even for professional writers) and online readers tend to want bites of information that can be digested easily. This is especially true if they’ve found a website through an online search and are looking for a direct answer to their question.
Here are some tips for shortening long sentences:
- Aim for sentences that are less than 30 words long.
- Split overly-long sentences into multiple shorter ones.
- Delete unnecessary words, such as adverbs (words that describe another verb or adjective, for example, “shouted loudly”).
- Write in active voice (read more on this below).
4. Passive voice
While writing in the passive voice isn’t wrong, it can make your sentences unclear and less direct. When you write in an active voice, your sentences will be clearer and more concise.
If you are not an experienced writer, you may be unaware of what makes a sentence passive or active, but a typing app like Grammarly or Hemingway will alert you of any sentences that are written in the passive voice. The more you write, the better you will get at writing in the active voice, but for now, here are some examples to help you differentiate between the two:
- “The mouse was chased by the cat” is passive, while “the cat chased the mouse” is active.
- “The shoes were put on her feet” is passive, while “she put the shoes on her feet” is active.
5. Spelling and grammar
Typing apps and dictionaries can help you rectify grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. However, certain things are a matter of opinion, and should therefore be outlined in your style guide to ensure consistency throughout your website. Some examples of these are:
- Bullet points — Do you add a full stop after each point in a bulleted list or leave it open?
- Capitalisation — Do you capitalise every word in a heading or just the first one? Are certain words capitalised, for example: “Government”?
- Hyphens — Are certain words hyphenated or written as one word? For example: “Make-up” and “makeup”.
- Numbers — Are numbers written in figures or spelt out in words?
- Spelling style — Do you use English or American spelling?
- Times — Do you prefer “am” and “pm”, “a.m.” and “p.m.” or “AM” and “PM”?
One of the bigger things to check when proofreading and editing your copy is the tone of your writing. The language you use should be on-brand and appropriate for both your audience and the product or service you are selling.
If, for example, you’ve written a blog post giving medical advice, your tone should be neutral and informative, rather than light and entertaining. In contrast, language that’s humorous and informal will be suitable for a website selling children’s toys or sweets.
Another thing to be wary of is being too negative. Studies show that customers are more likely to make purchases when they are in a good mood, so don’t bring them down with negative blog posts and risk missing out on sales.
Again, an editing tool like Grammarly or Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker will pick up on most typos, but you should still double-check for these yourself.
An app won’t always spot words that sound the same but are spelt differently. Some examples of these are:
- “Affect” and “effect”.
- “Their”, “there”, and “they’re”.
- “To” and “too”.
- “Your” and “you’re”.
Another common typo people make is writing “a” instead of “an” before a word beginning with a vowel (or vice versa). However, you should be aware that there are some exceptions to this rule, such as:
- Words that begin with a “y” sound, for example: “A uniform”.
- Words that begin with a silent letter followed by a vowel, for example: “An honour”.
- Words that begin with a consonant that sounds like a vowel, for example: “An MP”.
8. Unnecessary phrases
As mentioned, web users are generally short on time and tend to prefer snippets of information as opposed to flowery language. With that in mind, it is best to avoid unnecessary phrases. To help with this, the following table suggests some wordy phrases that could be expressed more concisely:
|Wordy phrase||Concise alternative|
|“At the time that”||“When”|
|“At this time”||“Currently”, “now”, “today”|
|“Because of the fact that”||“Because”|
|“Concerning the matter of”||“About”, “concerning”, “regarding”|
|“Has the ability/opportunity to”||“Can”|
|“In actual fact”||“Actually” (or delete)|
|“In excess of”||“More than”, “over”|
|“With regard to||“Regarding”|
|“In the event of”||“If”|
|“Is able to”||“Can”|
|“It is possible that”||“Could”, “may”, “might”|
|“The reason for/why”||“Because”, “since”, “why”|
|“There is a chance that”||“Could”, “may”, “might”|
|“This is an example of”||“This is”|
|“This shows that”||“Thus” (or delete)|
|“Where ‘X’ is concerned”||“About”, “concerning”, “regarding”|
|“Whether or not”||“Whether”|
9. Unverified facts
Double-checking facts is especially important when publishing data-led content, but every piece of content you publish should be factually accurate if you want your readers to view you as a trustworthy source. So make sure facts like dates and times are correct, and ensure you’ve got the correct spellings of people’s names, companies and products.
It is also good practice to link to your source whenever you quote a statistic or the results of a study, as this can help your positioning as a voice of authority and improve your SEO score.
Editing and proofreading tips
Here are some tips to help make the proofreading and editing process easier:
- Wait a while — Leave some time between writing and reading the copy, so you come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Make a list of common errors — List the errors you commonly make and bear them in mind when reading over the content.
- Proofread for only one error at a time — This increases your chances of spotting mistakes, as you’ll be focussing on one thing at a time, and it means you’ll be rereading the copy.
- Read in a different format — You may find it easier to spot errors if you read over your content in a different format. You could try switching from screen to paper or changing the font, size or colour of the text, for example.
- Read backwards — Sometimes the brain corrects written mistakes automatically, so reading backwards can stop it from doing this.
- Read slowly and carefully — Take your time, as again, the brain can automatically correct errors when reading quickly.
- Concentrate — Ensure you are in a quiet environment, so you can focus better.
- Read aloud — Writing sometimes sounds different in your head than it does on screen, so read your copy out loud.
- Utilise resources — Use resources like dictionaries and thesauruses to confirm anything you are unsure of.
- Ask someone else to read it, too — A second pair of eyes can pick up anything you’ve missed. If you can’t afford to pay for proofreading services, ask a friend or relative to take a look.
A website that’s littered with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes is detrimental to a business because it looks unprofessional, it frustrates readers — which means fewer conversions — and the site can’t be indexed appropriately, so will be less likely to appear in the SERPs.
So, it is important to correct spelling and punctuation errors and double-check everything before you publish it. Apps like Grammarly and Hemingway can help you do this, but they don’t spot every mistake, so you should read over everything again yourself — or ask a professional proofreader or friend to check it for you.
When proofreading and editing content for your website, nine things to look out for are:
- Long sentences.
- Passive voice.
- Spelling and grammar.
- Unnecessary phrases.
- Unverified facts.
Some tips to help you do this include:
- Leaving some time between writing and reading so you come back to your content with a fresh pair of eyes.
- Listing common errors and bearing them in mind when reading over the content.
- Looking for one error at a time to increase your chances of spotting mistakes.
- Reading the copy slowly and carefully, out loud, backwards and in a different format to help you spot mistakes more easily.
- Ensuring you are in a quiet environment so you can concentrate better.
- Making use of resources like dictionaries and thesauruses.
- Asking someone else to read it to pick up anything you’ve missed.