We’ve worked with thousands of businesses, helping them create style guides, streamline their editing processes, and proofread their content. So, we’ve decided to share our tips for success and best practices for proofreading business writing.
In this comprehensive guide, we’re talking about proofreading business writing, why it’s important, and what the most common mistakes are. We’ve also included a downloadable proofreading checklist. At the end of the guide, we’ll discuss how you might benefit from professional proofreading services.
Here’s an overview:
Before we dive into how to proofread business writing, we need to establish the four types of business writing. Understanding the different types, their purposes, and their intended audiences (or readers) is crucial to effectively producing and proofreading business writing.
Informational writing is any type of writing that provides information for the reader, such as white papers, business reports, and employee handbooks.
Instructional writing provides the reader with clear instructions for completing a task. Examples of instructional writing include training materials, guides, and how-to articles.
Persuasive writing is usually intended to persuade your readers (often customers or investors) to invest their money in your business or purchase a product or service you’re offering. It may also have an informative or instructional tone that further strengthens your persuasive tone and convinces readers to act. Examples of persuasive writing include product copy, marketing content, and sales content.
Transactional writing includes internal business communications, such as informal emails or business letters. It generally uses a conversational business writing tone.
No matter what type of business writing you’re engaged in, it should always be clear, concise, and effective for your intended purposes. Before you begin proofreading, it’s important to have an outline of your audience and the intended purposes of the text. As you go through the document, check that the overall tone and quality of the writing align with your readers and intentions.
Consumers pay attention and care about whether a business uses proper grammar and spelling. Here are the facts, based on a Tidio study:
What does this mean? If your business is putting out copy or content with grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors, consumers will not perceive your brand to be trustworthy or credible, costing you more money in the long term.
Shira Stieglitz from Website Planet wrote a phenomenal article detailing the extent to which grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors negatively affect businesses. Here are the main results from the experiment:
Additionally, the experiment found that Google noticed reduced click-through rates and would consequently require those sites to pay more per click. In the United States, sites paid 10% more if they made a typo, and in the UK, the penalty was 20% for the same infraction. The study also noted that Google perceives your site to be untrustworthy and lowers it in SERPs when you have a high bounce rate.
So, not only do consumers become wary of your business when they spot errors, but Google also takes note and penalizes you for it.
Want to learn more about how low-quality writing affects your business? Read our article Quality Writing Equals Happy Clients.
In this section, we’re covering the seven most common mistakes in business writing and giving you solutions for them. Don’t worry if you can’t remember everything. We’ve created a proofreading checklist that covers everything in this section (and more) for you to use as a resource.
These are the basic mistakes people make while writing, and they have the biggest impact on the overall quality of your work. They can be easy to miss in the proofreading process because your mind automatically corrects them as you read, especially if your eye isn’t trained to find them.
Grammar errors to watch out for include faulty parallelism and incomplete sentences. These will detract from the quality and the general flow of your writing. You should also look for common spelling errors, such as accept vs. except and affect vs. effect.
To avoid these common grammar and spelling mistakes, always use a spellchecker and grammar checker while writing and proofreading. Several AI-powered writing programs also exist that can offset the mental burden of checking every single word if you don’t have a second set of eyes to look over your writing. To avoid these mistakes, however, it’s always best to have at least one other person scan your work before you submit or publish it.
Writing without your target audience in mind produces less effective copy. Common mistakes include omitting information because you assume your target audience knows about it, not providing enough information about a service or product, and not answering questions your target audience may have.
The best solution to ensure that your writing is appropriate for your intended reader is to imagine that you are the intended reader. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself questions you think they will have and think of the type of language they will respond to best. If you’re unsure who your intended reader is, you might consider creating buyer personas.
If you’re an IT engineer writing a how-to article for the general public on common computer problems and how to fix them, would it be appropriate to use terms such as latency or backward compatibility? Probably not. Your intended reader shouldn’t need a dictionary to understand what you’re saying. While some jargon is appropriate, it’s important to consider what your target audience knows and provide detailed explanations as needed.
If you’ve written copy or content with your audience in mind but still aren’t sure whether you’re using too much jargon, ask someone to read it. It’s really that simple. It’s best to ask someone who fits with your target audience, but if you can’t, ask a person from outside your field. This could be a colleague from another department or even a friend or family member. Ask them to highlight any words, terms, or paragraphs that are unclear so you know where to make changes.
If you’re writing about a topic or subject you know inside and out, it’s easy to get carried away in the writing process. However, this often results in long and confusing sentences that are difficult for readers to digest and understand. It’s also not conducive to skim reading if you’re writing online copy.
Keep it simple, clear, and concise. If you can say something in three words instead of five, go for three. It’s also important to keep in mind that the average sentence length in English is 15–20 words. So, if you see a sentence that looks particularly long, highlight it, check the word count, and make changes as needed. You may need to remove words or a break a long sentence into two.
An example of this is when you have to scroll through 12 pages of a food blogger going on about their magical vacation to Italy in 1989 just to get to the actual recipe. Nobody cares. People no longer have the time (or patience) for long backstories, irrelevant information, or excessive details.
Give the readers what they came for as soon as possible. Don’t keep them waiting. To do this, avoid long backstories, stay out of the weeds with your details, and know what your intended readers want to hear. Once you give them a reason to continue reading and you have their attention, you can include supporting and relevant information to make your case.
Your business’s brand voice reflects your brand’s personality and attracts your target audience/customers. Not having a consistent brand voice in your business’s internal and external communications weakens the message you’re trying to send to your customers. If you have several writers producing content for you and they aren’t on the same page regarding the tone, style, and voice of the brand, you’ll have inconsistent content going out, and your customers will notice.
The solution here is simple: Make a style guide. A style guide provides a blueprint for writers and editors, ensures clear and consistent content, develops a distinctive brand identity, and has so many other benefits. Be sure to click the link above to read more about how a style guide will benefit your business.
The finer details of any piece of writing can include abbreviations, dates, figures, punctuation, and the use of headers or margins. While one or two mistakes with a comma or in a table might not be detrimental to your writing, they add up fast. They also reflect poorly on the writer (aka you) and make for sloppy text.
Make sure you double-check every number in a text. Imagine including the wrong hotel address or meeting time for a conference. Disaster! Avoid using excessive punctuation, such as semicolons, colons, and dashes, if possible. Know when and how to properly use abbreviations. These pretty basic writing skills are easy to forget, so use a checklist (we’ve made one for you below!) to help you remember these finer details.
While knowing what common mistakes to look for is crucial to effective proofreading, it’s also important to be familiar with different proofreading techniques. These will ensure that you don’t skim over errors. Using a variety of techniques in the proofreading process will help you produce error-free and high-quality content. Here’s a list of techniques you can use:
While the above techniques are great if you have to proofread your own writing, it’s best to have a professional proofread your work when the stakes are high. Professional proofreaders or editorial teams can streamline your proofreading process. To learn more about using them, read on to the Proofreading Services for Your Business section, where we talk about this subject in more detail.
Our experts have compiled the ultimate proofreading checklist for you or your business to use. If you’d like a detailed explanation of each point in this list, check out the full article here.
The checklist covers all the points discussed in the 7 Common Mistakes and Solutions section above in a ready-to-use format. You can bookmark this list or download it as a PDF here.
If your business is putting out a high volume of copy or content, you should consider building an in-house editorial team or hiring freelancers or an agency to streamline your proofreading process.
An in-house editorial team is a valuable resource for any business. However, building an efficient editorial team requires assessing what your business needs and putting in a large amount of planning. Some roles you might consider for your team include writers, editors, content creators, reviewers, and proofreaders. You should also have a productive editorial process to ensure high content quality, increased return on investment, and a more streamlined collaborative process.
The last piece of the puzzle for a productive and well-oiled editorial team and workflow is a style guide. Styles guides ensure that all content is consistent and maintains your company’s brand voice across all platforms. If you don’t have a style guide and need help creating one for your in-house editorial team, we’ve got you covered. We’ve developed thousands of style guides and created a list of the top 10 things to include in yours. Click the link here to read more.
Interested in finding out how to streamline your proofreading process with an in-house editorial team? Read 8 Steps to Establish a Quality Control Process For Your Editing Team to learn more.
Sometimes, there aren’t enough in-house people or resources for an editorial team. Thankfully, thousands of freelancers exist who can help you create error-free, high-quality content. Outsourcing your editing or proofreading work has many benefits, including reducing your teams’ existing workload, improving your company’s reputation, and ensuring the overall quality of your work before it’s published.
When looking for freelance proofreaders and editors, be sure to take the right precautions. Look for someone who’s familiar with your industry, has relevant experience and qualifications, and is able to meet your deadlines.
Read our article 5 Steps to Finding and Hiring a Freelance Editor to learn more about outsourcing your proofreading services.
If you don’t have an in-house editorial team and don’t want to go through the hassle of finding and hiring a freelance editor, then outsourcing to a professional editorial agency is the solution for you. And while challenges definitely exist when it comes to editing agencies, the benefits greatly outweigh the cons when you find the right company.
Look for an editorial agency that has a long-standing reputation and testimonials that rave about its services. Additionally, make sure the agency has qualified and experienced editors who can take on a large volume of work, meet your deadlines, and return error-free, high-quality work.
Thousands of businesses – from award-winning start-ups to Fortune 500 companies – have benefited from partnering with us. Schedule a call with our team today to learn more about how we can help you scale your proofreading and editing process.
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