Whether you’ve been writing for a few months or a few years, we all make writing mistakes. Microsoft has even confirmed that the third most commonly-used key is the backspace key. It still doesn’t feel great to make typos and grammatical errors when you’re a professional copywriter. Today, we’re covering some of the most common errors to watch out for in your writing while proofreading your work.
First, let’s talk about why you should proofread in the first place.
Why is it Important to Proofread?
Proofreading, reading your work to check for mistakes, typos, or misused words, is essential for any professional copywriter. It’s the easiest way to improve your work’s quality immediately. Reading your own work lets you make the best first impression with your writing, ensuring that you’ve conveyed what you meant to with your work.
Many professional copywriters hire proofreaders to assess their work’s quality. When we read our own work, it’s all too easy to miss a simple typo. For example, how often have you read your work and found no errors just to have a friend or teacher highlight where you’ve typed ‘hte’ instead of ‘the’, or ‘there’ when you meant to use ‘their’?
Proofreading is crucial to eliminate these common mistakes effectively in your writing. Keep reading for more tips on how to proofread properly.
How to Proofread for Copywriting
As we’ve said, proofreading your own work is challenging, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself. Here are some of our best tips for doing your best when you proofread your writing.
Wait On It: If you have the time, put off the proofreading process for a couple of days. It’s far easier to spot your errors when you’ve had a few days off since writing. You can take in your work like it’s brand new rather than glossing over errors because of your familiarity with the writing.
Create Contrast: Sometimes, changing the visuals of your writing is enough to make errors stand out. Try changing your page colour to something dark and making your text light to make a contrast you don’t usually see on your screen.
Break It Down: Another way to make it easier to spot your own errors is to take your writing one paragraph at a time. Open another blank document and copy the first paragraph of your work over. You can go over the first paragraph and then copy the next one. Breaking your whole piece up like this forces you to notice small details as you tackle things one sentence at a time.
Read Aloud: The age-old school trick of reading your work aloud is super helpful when you’re struggling. This is a great trick if you’re short on time and working under pressure. Put yourself in an environment where you can feel comfortable reading out loud and get to work - you’ll be amazed at how often mistakes pop out in ways you’d never have noticed without hearing it.
Using these tips should make it easier to spot most of your errors when proofreading. Let’s cover some of the most common mistakes you should be on the lookout for when you’re reviewing your work.
Common Grammatical Errors for Copywriters
Even professional copywriters make mistakes and typos, just like everybody else. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you need to proofread it thoroughly and check for these mistakes in particular.
1. Misusing Semicolons
The semicolon is one of the most challenging aspects of grammar to properly understand and utilise fully. It’s a way to connect two similar sentences, but we often keep the phrases separate or misuse a comma instead. You can use a comma when joining similar sentences, but there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. Check out this example of a misused comma.
I love reading books, this is my favourite book.
These two examples show how you can use a comma correctly to join two phrases or how you can use a semicolon.
I love reading books, and this is my favourite book.
I love reading books; this is my favourite book.
Once you’ve practised placing semicolons correctly, it’s easy to see when you’ve missed an opportunity to use one or misused one altogether.
2. Wrong/Right Words
You’ve probably seen a misspelling of ‘definitely’ that says ‘definately’ in someone’s tweet and cringed, but have you also noticed the use of ‘defiantly’ when the writer meant to say ‘definitely’? These typos are much harder to spot because the word used is a ‘right’ word, so most editing software won’t highlight the error. Trying the steps we’ve suggested above - like reading aloud - can help you identify these mistakes more readily. Here are a few examples of common wrong/right words.
You’ve probably noticed that lots of these misused terms are homophones, meaning they sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings. Thanks to social media, misspellings are rife online, and it gets harder to keep track of what’s right. The same applies to certain phrases; they get misused or misspelt online and suddenly you’re getting them wrong too. Here’s a few more examples.
RIGHT: All intents and purposes WRONG: All intensive purposes
RIGHT: Piqued my interest WRONG: Peeked my interest
RIGHT: Peace of mind WRONG: Piece of mind
RIGHT: Nip it in the bud WRONG: Nip it in the butt
RIGHT: I couldn’t care less WRONG: I could care less
RIGHT: Case in point WRONG: Case and point
RIGHT: Should/Could/Would have WRONG: Should/Could/Would of
Ultimately, there are lots of ways to slip up when you’re writing. Making yourself aware of common mistakes like these is the best way to keep on top of your own work and ensure you’re on the right path. If in doubt, search for a definition for a term or phrase to guarantee you’re conveying the right meaning to your reader.
3. Incorrect Localisation
This one is pretty specific to professional copywriters, but you can ensure you’re doing an excellent job by becoming better at spotting it. It’s common for copywriters to write for publications in different countries, meaning you have to localise your work. Reading something written without localisation is jarring, so it’s important to get it right to avoid alienating your readership.
Check out these differences between UK/AUS English and US English spelling that are easy to forget.
These examples highlight specific linguistic differences between British and Australian English and American and Canadian English. Removing the ‘u’s in words like colour, behaviour, and favour to become color, behavior, and favor are fairly well-known differences. It’s the subtler differences - like ‘travelling’ and ‘traveling’ - that you have to try harder to find. There are also simplifications in American English to consider, like these examples.
TIP: Niche differences like these are even harder to spot, but some tools can help you. Try using Grammarly and setting the language to your desired country to ensure you get your localised language right. If you write in software like Google Docs, you can change the language settings to your target language to guarantee you’re using the correct spelling for these terms.
4. Oxford Comma
The Oxford comma is a classic bit of grammar that’s largely abandoned today. Its purpose is to separate items in a list format like this:
For breakfast, I ate toast, eggs, and orange juice.
For breakfast, I ate toast, eggs and orange juice.
Eggs with orange juice sounds like an unpleasant breakfast, so the Oxford comma is great for splitting up these terms. However, there’s heated debate over whether or not it’s worth using the Oxford comma. In the UK, it’s not standard grammar since only the Oxford style guide uses it. Many publications renounce their use because they take up page space, and they can come off as stuffy or snobbish to use.
The best advice we can give you here is to find out if your client uses the Oxford comma before you decide whether or not you should. Many writers like using it because it clarifies their intentions and meaning. However, if your prospective client doesn’t use them, ensure you haven’t used them in your work.
TIP: A simple Ctrl/Command + F creates a search bar in your document. Enter ‘, and’ as well as’, or’ to highlight every time you’ve used an Oxford comma. If you’re used to using them, they can slip through the cracks; using the search function means you don’t miss any while proofreading.
5. Misplaced Modifiers
Modifiers are great linguistic tools, but they can easily change the meaning of your words if you misplace them. Modifiers give us more information about another word in the sentence. For example, ‘thoroughly’ modifies ‘proofread’ in this sentence.
The copywriter thoroughly proofread her writing.
When you misplace modifiers, however, you risk making your writing unclear for the reader. Sometimes, a modifier can be ambiguous or confusing, making it harder to understand the meaning of the text. Here’s an example of how modifier placement can impact how the reader interprets a sentence.
Lara discovered her great-granddaughter using time travel.
Placing the modifier ‘using time travel’ at the end of the sentence makes it an unclear example. Is Lara using time travel? Or is she finding out that her great-granddaughter uses it? Instead, either of these options makes it clear what the modifier affects.
Using time travel, Lara discovered her great-granddaughter
Lara discovered her great-granddaughter was using time travel.
Now, readers can easily tell if Lara or her great-granddaughter is using time travel. When proofreading your work, consider areas where you’ve used modifiers and make sure your meaning is clear. Hiring a professional proofreader or getting someone else to read your work for clarity makes it significantly easier to spot misplaced modifiers and correct them.
All in all, there are many ways to misstep in the copywriting world. When writing, sometimes we just want to rush to the end and get it over with. It’s worth it to take your time for the proofreading process, however. We all make mistakes, but when you want to put your best foot forward and make a great impression with prospective clients, thorough proofreading is the way to produce your best work.
Here’s our take on some of the most common questions about proofreading and copywriting.
Are Grammar Mistakes Acceptable in Copywriting?
Grammar mistakes are not acceptable for a professional copywriter’s published work. It’s fine to make mistakes in your first draft - we all do that. However, the whole point of doing a good job in your proofreading stage is eliminating any grammar mistakes and leaving you with a perfect piece of writing that exemplifies your skill.
Can You Be a Writer with Poor Grammar?
Yes and no. This question differs slightly from the last one because it is possible to make a career as a copywriter even if you frequently struggle with your grammar. Use a thorough proofreading process to correct your mistakes, and prioritise practising. Practising writing, and editing writing, will improve your skills, making proofreading easier and quicker in the future.
What is an Example of Bad Copywriting?
One of the worst things your copywriting can be is unclear. When it’s impossible to understand what you’re trying to say with your writing, clients will never be happy with your work. You should also avoid cliches in your writing. Lines like ‘the best deal ever’, ‘number one in the industry’, and ‘guaranteed to make you happy’ are outdated and make you look untrustworthy. Instead, focus on being genuine and delivering your message effectively.