I’ve been listening to the Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts for a couple of years. They’re an eclectic mixture of management and career-related topics presented by Michael Auzenne, Mark Horstman and Wendii Lord. If you haven’t listened yet, please do so. The quality of thinking and the professionalism is outstanding.
Six keys to successful proofreading
Every so often, one of their podcasts touches ground close to that of this Cheltenham copywriter’s specialism. A case in point was last week’s podcast on how to proofread. When I saw the topic I was onto it in a flash and on the whole I was impressed by the focus on these six points:
- Set Word to help you
- Don’t let Word check grammar
- Read backwards to proof a document
- Choose your time and place carefully
- Common writing mistakes to look out for
- Have someone help you proofread
A good start, and I realise that you can’t cover everything in a single podcast. But I’d add a few more points to elevate this from being a very good cast to a great one.
There was no mention of setting up and using an exception dictionary (or exclude dictionary) in Word. Sure, they talked about teaching the default Word spell-checker to accept custom terms, but an exception dictionary takes this a stage further by forcing Word to always flag words that you might be using incorrectly. Examples would be ‘bear’ and ‘bare’, or ‘to and ‘too’. Setting up an exceptions dictionary is a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. Once it’s done, it’s easy to update the underlying .txt document. Rather than reinvent the wheel by explaining the ins and outs of doing this, here’s a link to a good reference.
Another addition to your proofing toolkit should be Intelligent Editing’s PerfectIT. I’ve been using this tool for a couple of years and it’s a superb tool to complement MS Word. There’s a free version, but I’d strongly recommend paying the modest fee for the paid for software. Used in conjunction with the standard MS Word spell-checker, this is a valuable tool for achieving stylistic consistency in a document.
I was also interested to hear the discussion about beginning sentences with conjunctions such as And and But. Although the presenters sort of conceded that you could ‘break the rules of grammar’ to use this, I think they were behind the times on this. Good writing is about communicating clearly and effectively, and often as it is spoken. Good copywriting gets its punch, energy, flow and conversational feel (conversational needn’t be unprofessional) from techniques such as beginning sentences with conjunctions and using sentence fragments.
That’s about it. I’d definitely advocate the use of text-to-speech software to help with proofing (I swear by TextAloud with one of the many available custom synthesised voices). Try it and you’ll notice the difference between it and the standard Adobe or Microsoft system voices.
A final challenge
Lastly, the Career Tools presenters set an interesting challenge about an occasion when it is acceptable (read: correct) not to have matching quotation marks around speech. That would be when you have two paragraphs of quoted speech. You start the first para with a quote mark, leave it off at the end of the para, begin the second para with another, then end the quote with a closing quote mark.
Career Tools and Manager Tools: they’re two interesting podcasts whether you run a copywriting practice or you’re an owner or manager of an organisation that hires freelance copywriters. And that means pretty much everyone, because any organisation that uses words to communicate can use a skilled, experienced copywriter.
I would say that wouldn’t I!