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On screen proofreading

Elena Plaiter
Digital Editor, Online Content Manager, Content Producer, Digital Exec… whatever your job title, chances are you spend a lot of time staring at a screen, tapping on a keyboard and then proofreading what you’ve written before hitting the big fat ‘publish’ button and sending it out into the internet ether.

Yes, Content Management Systems mean we can always edit, amend and re-publish our content, eliminating any typos, grammar errors, and massive faux pas, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t proofread. We work with constantly evolving pieces of content, with an increasing pressure to publish now. Depending on the structure of your company you may have loads of stakeholders and safety nets before it hits the World Wide Web. For others, it’s a case of publish and be damned.

There are those who have the luxury of proofreading a product that will be finished, and printed. These editors spend their time putting hieroglyphs on manuscripts and couriering them back and forth, with the luxury of time and armed with a red pen.

I attended a course recently where we spent some time debating the pros and cons of proofreading on screen or off. Some say proofreading is harder on screen. The glare! The RSI! The technology! But do digital editors really have a choice? Well, “we’re all publishers now”, so let’s examine the evidence.

Do the arguments for proofreading off screen stand up for digital editors?

  • It’s easy and quick to mark up hard copies

It’s not really an option to mark up digitally. I work with a system where people across the organisation contribute to the site. They may be event organisers or project managers. They are in the best position to know when phone numbers are wrong, or ensure their part of the business is represented online. They’re not necessarily trained in mark up signs.

Yes, it can be a pain to feed back to them via email on the changes that need making to their pages, but would a series of symbols really help here?

  • There are no software/hardware compatibility issues

This isn’t an issue in-house – we’re all on the same versions of Windows, IE and using the same CMS.  In fact, It’s only been an issue when we have external contributors producing web content, but as long as we’re clear what version of IE they should be working on then it’s a minor glitch, rather than a major disadvantage.

  • It’s easy to see the bigger picture (double page spreads etc)

We can zoom in to see small fonts, or zoom out to see the bigger picture, and we’re always seeing the content in the context in which it will be consumed. We can grasp how the words relate to the rest of the content on the page, and how that relates to the wider website.

  • You don’t need to know how to ‘code’

In an ideal world, you’d be using a CMS which never experienced glitches, but the truth is you will always have contributors who will paste their content in from Microsoft Word or emails, and bring across funny formatting with it. Sometimes your WYSIWYG editor will throw a wobbly for no apparent reason. But ultimately, you only need to know how to ‘code’ when things go wrong, or you want to push your content to the limit of your CMS or CSS.

  • What you see is what you get – your proofs reflect the finished product

If you’re using a CMS with a preview function this isn’t an issue either. In fact we’re proofing and consuming the content in the same way our readers will. If we can’t understand a sentence at first glance, how will our busy, scanning and distracted readers?

The other side of the coin…

In fact, for us online proofreaders we have the advantage of being able to send our comments and changes to others instantly (without couriers and thus greener), and not risk losing our work (unless your computer, CMS or server plays up).  We can run macros and spellcheckers (within reason) and find and replace to speed things up. Depending on our CMS we can track changes, compare documents, and have document control. We check multimedia content in situ and check links quickly.

Proofreading is hard… whatever the medium

1. Your brain sees what it wants to see, and misses the small stuff

How many f’s in this sentence: Finished files are the results of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.

2. Your brain makes sense of things, even when they are jumbled up
Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.  I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty  uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig  to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy

The red pen convert?

As much as I love to scrawl on things with a red pen (and trust me, I really do love a red pen), as long as I’m checking websites, I’m paper free!

Websites… how do you proof yours? Do you use a checklist? What are your common pitfalls?

P.S. There are 6 F’s!

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