Proofreading Strategies, Error Rates, and Costs

Posted by Krista Moon on October 9, 2017

Proofreading Strategies, Error Rates and Costs

Everyone knows you need to proofread. Spelling and grammatical errors make you look sloppy and unprofessional. The problem is, when you've spent so much brain power trying to write and format good content, and you go over and over it to make it just right, proofreading becomes almost impossible. Your brain automatically fixes mistakes.

Y've seen ths thgs bfro – where the wrods dn't haev to be spleled correctly in oder to know wht is bing siad.

Spell check is just one small part of a clean document though. With one click of a button you can find misspelled words – that part is easy. It's the words that shouldn't be there or are spelled correctly, but used wrong, that can get us into trouble.

Read on to find out 9 proofreading strategies, typical error rates, and what you can expect to pay for the service.

Proof Reading Strategies

I was speaking with Jill Konrath, author of 3 bestselling sales books, about proofreading recently, and she shared a few of her strategies. Here's what she recommends, along with my own recommendations:

1. Print the document on paper

We're so used to scanning things online that it's another barrier to proofreading. It can be harder to read every word when the content is online. Jill recommends proofing on a paper copy.

Personally, this strategy doesn't work well for me because I try to minimize printing as much as possible. I can go weeks without even having paper in the printer to print on! And, every time I made some changes, I would feel like I have to re-print the thing for proofing.

I agree 100% that it can be difficult on the eyes to proof online. There is another way that might work for some people though. I prefer strategy #2.

2. Zoom in

It's a pretty simple strategy, but one I didn't think about for a really long time. I would sit in front of my computer screen squinting like crazy to try to catch all the little nuances of the copy – misplaced comma's, improper spacing between words, etc.

Then it hit me one day – zoom in! Make the words huge so I can easily see everything. Wow. You know what they say, "It's hard to see the forest for the trees!"

3. Read one line at a time

This approach helps you focus and stops your brain from getting ahead of your eyes. If you printed your content for proofing, use a piece of paper to block out all text except the one line you're reading. If you're using the zoom strategy, zoom in so huge you can only see a very small amount of words at a time.

4. Look for common mistakes

Have a list of commonly misspelled words to consistently look for. Words such as: its/it's, your/you're, their/they're/there, whose/who's, affective/effective, loose/lose, and fro/for (spell check won’t catch that one!). Most importantly, know what mistakes you tend to make and keep an eye out for them. No one knows your writing better than you!

5. Read it backwards

This one can be tedious, but very effective. It stops you from automatically fixing mistakes and forces you to look at every single word. It's not a realistic strategy for longer pieces of content, but it can work great in certain situations.

6. Read it aloud

This is a classic suggestion that still does the trick. Reading to yourself, or to someone else if possible, helps avoid run on sentences and awkward wording. However, even if you read it aloud, your brain can still auto fix things. Try using a tool like Google translate, which will read it out loud for you. Then you can read along as you hear the words. Double whammy! 

7. Check the formatting

One area people don't often think of as proofreading is content formatting. However, wrong H headers, improper spacing, wrong size fonts, etc. can also impact the quality of your content. Make sure the graphical layout aligns the way you want it to and is consistent throughout the piece.

8. Have a check list

I use checklists all the time. Even if I've done the same thing over and over, and think I have the process memorized, forcing myself to stop and say, "Yes, I did that," ensures I don't skip any steps. If you don't use a checklist, it's too easy to say, "Ah, I don't need to do that this time".

9. Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it

Here's the truth: I've done all of these things, tried my damnedest to have no errors. And, I still virtually always have some kind of error that I miss. It's crazy. Every content creator who has sent me blogs or what-not has had errors in the majority of their work too.

The only thing I can think of is that the content creator can't be the final proofer. I think it's important for the content creator to go through all of these steps to catch as many errors as possible, which will make the final proofer's job that much more effective.

But the bottom line is, if you are involved in any way in actually creating the content, you should give it to an outside party to proof – someone who has no relationship to the content creation process at all, and whose sole job is to strictly look for errors.

What is an acceptable error rate?

I've done some online searching to find out the typical error rate for proofreading. I didn't get any clear, definitive answers, but most of the articles I read talked about 5-20% error rates. That seems high, especially when my clients expect a 0% error rate.

Here is a response from a LinkedIn group question from Gerald Hill, a Managing Editor at Much Better Text:

"Mentoring new proofreaders, I expect them to catch 50–65% of typos at first, rising to 70–85%; my best beginner averaged 88%, and an experienced professional proofreader should typically spot at least 90% of literals. Beginners should also catch 30–50% of editorial errors (e.g. inconsistencies in style or fact) at first, rising to 60–70% later. These are normal figures in my experience, but it all depends how well the piece was put together and edited. If there are problems everywhere, the proofreader can only do so much in the time and budget usually available."

Here's another opinion from Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl:

"So, given my long history with typos, it has become my belief that it's nearly impossible for someone to accurately proofread their own writing and be consistently successful. Think about it: If I produce 1,000 words a day, and I let 1 typo slip by every week, that's actually a 99.986% success rate. If you think about it in terms of letters rather than words, since most typos happen at the level of letters, that 1 typo a week equates to about a 99.997% success rate."

Is it realistic to expect a 0% error rate on everything all of the time? There are some computer programs out there that may help, but for now, I think proofing is still heavily reliant on the human experience. And if you gave the same document to 3 different people, there is a pretty good chance that each of them would find some kind of error or room for improvement on sentence structure or concepts.

I wish I had a definitive industry standard, but there are too many variables involved. I think that if everyone involved in content creation does the absolute best they can to minimize errors, a 0% error rate can be achieved the majority of the time. If someone gets a sloppy document to begin with, and no one else is proofing, there is a good chance an error will be missed.

How much does proofreading cost?

Again, I did some online research and didn't come up with a definitive answer. But, there is definitely an additional charge to have a professional proofreader examine your content

According to Scribendi, proofreaders charge by the hour, page, or word. By the hour charges may range from $10/hr for novice level to $95/hr for cream of the crop. Really, the charges are all over the map. If your document has tons of errors, you may be charged more. Or, if you want editing AND proofreading, it will cost more.

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. If you want to hire the cheapest of the cheap, don't be surprised if your stuff isn't well proofed. If you hire high level professionals, you should expect higher quality work. The cost will also depend on how quick of a turn around you need. Next day will cost more than next week.

I do believe that everyone involved in the content creation process should follow the aforementioned proofreading strategies – I wouldn't just leave it up to the proofreader alone. Because as Gerald says, the quality of the proofreading depends on how well the piece was put together in the first place.

The more people looking for errors, and the more methods you employ, the less chance that some will slip by.

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