Cathay Pacific spelling mistake

Copywriting tip 21: Proofreading

Cathay Pacific spelling mistake - trimmed

Try reading this …

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy,
it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are,
the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

Wonderful, isn’t it? We take in the shapes of words, rather than the individual letters. Which is why we can read that.

(Sadly, it may not be a piece of research from Cambridge University, after all: as this article tries to track down.)

Spelling and proofreading.

I remember, in my early years, the attitude of agencies.

When there was a spelling mistake, they’d blame the client: ‘Your problem, you signed it off’.

I’ve never thought that. I’ve always thought it was the writer’s responsibility.

Proofread your work carefully.

Not just for the words that are misspelt: but for the words that are spelt correctly, but are the wrong words.

You can’t, after all, rely on Spell Czech.

Imagine if you’d signed off this poster, for example …

Kansa poster spelling mistake

Ouch. Spell check isn’t going to pick up on that. You, as the writer, need to.

Build trust and rapport by getting the detail right.

So, here are my quick proofreading tips.

1. Print it out

The way that we read off a screen is different to how we read off paper.

Off paper, we read in a Z shape.

Off a screen, it’s an F shape.

By printing it out, you’ll look at the copy differently. Pick up things you didn’t before.

Sorry about the trees. But it’ll help your writing immensely.

2. Read it out loud

This fixes a lot of writing issues.

You’ll stumble where there should be a natural pause.

Find sentences that are too long.

Notice missing words.

A great technique. Just sorry for the people who have to sit next to you …

3. Turn on the grammar checker

I bet you’ve all got your ‘check spelling’ preference switched on.

That red line comes in very handy.

But have you got your ‘check grammar’ one turned on, too?

That gives you a blue line when there’s something not quite right.

Those words that are spelt correctly, but not the right word, for example.

Very handy.

4. Read it backwards

Yep: this forces you to look at the actual words.

it’s easy – isn’t it? – to read something (for the 100th time) and just skip through.

‘Oh, yeah. I checked that last time.

‘I know what comes next.’

Read it backwards, and that doesn’t happen. You can concentrate on the words themselves.

I’ve heard of writers who use a piece of paper or cardboard to go backwards, line by line.

Whatever works for you.

5. Fresh eyes

My final tip: get someone else to check your copy for you.

Someone you trust.

They’ll question other aspects, too. That can be useful.

But, because they don’t know the piece of writing, they’ll look at it afresh.

So, there you go. Five quick tips for proofreading – getting the detail and spelling right.

Time to apply those to this piece of writing.

Now, where’s that printer


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


For my Monday Max: the latest articles and news about SEO, copywriting, communications, marketing, psychology and more. In your inbox every Monday at 8am.

Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.