How to proofread: A 10-step checklist for word-perfect prose

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4 minutes read

Write without fear. Edit without mercy. Proofread without blinking.

Look, mistakes happen. No matter how diligently you check, re-check and re-re-check your writing, that typo, errant apostrophe or incorrect use of your/you’re will leap out like a beacon two seconds after you hit send.

Simple errors are forgivable but emails, reports, pitches and media releases filled with copy clangers are unforgettable.

Aruga’s Content team is filled with writers and wordsmiths whose passion for perfection was forged in the fires of newsrooms, freelancing gigs and publishing houses and whose respect for proofreading was beaten into them by pedantic editors. Figuratively speaking. Mostly.

More than merely hitting spellcheck before you hit send, proofreading is a skill but one that’s easy to master if you have a guide.

1. Spellcheck

Starting with a spellcheck can catch simple typos and errors straightaway but don’t blindly accept all the flagged corrections. Review each suggestion before approving because sometimes autocorrect gets it oh-so wrong.

Level-up your spellcheck with a more comprehensive program, such as the free Grammarly extensions for Chrome and Microsoft Word. The first automatically flags errors in web-based programs such as WordPress and email while the latter picks up far more than Microsoft’s Editor.

2. Capital letters

Pay particular attention to words with capital letters – think Names, attention-grabbing HEADLINES and fussy BraNds – as they often slip undetected through spellcheck programs.

3. Names and titles

Stuffing up someone’s name is a surefire way to lose all credibility. Review the spelling of each name and title. If you don’t personally know the individual, organisation or title, copy it into a Google search bar and validate via a trusted source. Also, check that the correct honorific is attributed to a person: are they known as Ms or Dr? Mr or Prof? CEO or COO? Artistic Director or Creative Director?

4. Formatting

Check the consistency of font, style and formatting conventions across your document. Highlight the body text to make sure the font style, size and spacing is consistent. Formatting should also fall into line: if you’re required to write book or movie titles in italics, make sure all book and movie titles are italicised; if your organisation’s style is to write sub-headings in BOLD CAPS, make sure every sub-heading is bold and capped.

5. Links

If you’ve inserted hyperlinks into your email or report, click on every link – or copy and paste into a Google search bar – to check they are working and direct the reader to the correct website. Use this same technique to check and confirm every social media handle and hashtag you reference. Remember, an organisation’s social handles can differ across platforms – @brisbanefestival (Instagram) @BrisFestival (Twitter) @BrisbaneFestival (Facebook).

6. Captions and headlines

If you’re inserting or attaching images, open it to make sure it is the correct picture. Double-check that the file name of attachments is also correct, descriptive and professional: crap1.jpg and IMG_2542trf85.jpg should absolutely be renamed before sending. Check each photo is accompanied by a matching caption, paying particular attention to the correct spelling of names and placement of people in the photo. A standard rule is to clearly name people from left to right. Ensure headlines accurately reflect the content that follows and any placeholder text – those ‘blahs’ and ‘XXX’ and ‘TBCs’ – have been removed. If you write the headline in capital letters so it stands out, remember to check each word is spelt correctly.

7. Contacts

Whether it’s an email signature or a spokesperson at the bottom of a media release, confirm all contact details are correct: name, title/position, email and mobile. If you’re writing on behalf of an organisation, make sure their branded letterhead or document templates are up-to-date.

8. Cross-reference

Mistakes can slip through the cracks when you’re using template documents, copying-and-pasting from secondary sources or duplicating slides and pages, so check you have edited and updated everything thoroughly. Make sure Tables of Contents and page numbers marry up throughout a document, especially if you’re duplicating, deleting or adding slides and pages as you edit.

9. Final sweep

You’re almost there! But before sending your literary gems into the big, wide world, take one final sweep of your work and make sure you’ve answered and included all the big issues: Who, What, When and Where. Don’t invite someone to a meeting without nominating a time, don’t announce a new festival without its dates, don’t spruik ticket sales without a link to buy them. If you’re writing on behalf of someone, compare your copy with their brief to ensure all key messages are included, quotes are correctly attributed and all other guidelines and requests are met.

10. Spellcheck. Again.

Bookend the proofreading process with a simple spellcheck – make it your first and last step. Ending with a spellcheck is the last chance to pick up any errors made during the editing process.


Need creatively crafted copy, sparkling prose or wordsmithing know-how? Aruga’s Content Team provides an end-on-end service across online and offline content from ideation to print or published copy across websites, direct marketing, custom publishing, scripting, podcasts and articles. If it’s content, we’re across it!