045 Solve Your Online Proofreading Problems With This Simple Trick

This episode is for any one with limited time and limited proofreading skills. Like me.

There’s a common myth web writers fall for: this idea that proofreading online isn’t nearly as important as writing for print. If you believe that, you would be wrong.

Proofreading is essential.

So today I’m happy as a kitten to introduce you to Stefanie Flaxman, Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief, who will help you choose the right words and teach you time-saving ways to improve your copy.

You are going to love Stefanie because she doesn’t consider herself a defender of language … she considers herself a defender of the writer.

That means she’s full of neat tricks and deep wisdom about writing clear, concise, and compelling copy for the web. From the proofreader’s perspective.

In this 16-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • That some things you write online are actually permanent (in other words, can’t be changed)
  • Whether people are more forgiving online or not
  • What kind of proofreader never to hire
  • The dead-wrong way to use language
  • A time-saving exercise that will solve most of your proofreading problems
  • When it’s okay to make language errors or break grammar rules
  • How profanity can make your writing look worse

The Show Notes

Solve Your Online Proofreading Problems With This Simple Trick

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

Demian Farnworth: Welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am your host Demian Farnworth and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

Thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

Now, if you’ve been following me this week, you should know by now that we are on this monumental roll, breaking tradition.

Instead of delivering a monologue, I’ve pulled in some of the smartest brains on web writing for a little dialogue — dialogue about overcoming obscurity and finding your voice and choosing the right words.

See, there’s a common myth web writers fall for. It’s this idea that proofreading online isn’t nearly as important as writing for print.

If you believe that, you would be wrong.

Proofreading is essential, which is why, today, I’m happy as a kitten to introduce you to Stefanie Flaxman, Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief, who will help you choose the right words and teach you time-saving ways to improve your copy.

You’re going to love Stefanie. She doesn’t consider herself a defender of language. She considers herself a defender of the writer.

That means she’s full of neat tricks and deep wisdom about writing clear, concise, and compelling copy for the web — but from the proofreader’s perspective.

Enough with the introduction, on to the show.

State your name.

Stefanie Flaxman: Stefanie Flaxman.

Demian Farnworth: Okay. Tell our listeners what you do.

Stefanie Flaxman: I am Copyblogger Media’s Editor-in-Chief, and I host the podcast Editor-in-Chief on Rainmaker.FM.

Demian Farnworth: Hi, Stefanie, Editor-in-Chief.

Stefanie Flaxman: Hi, Demian. How are you?

Demian Farnworth: I’m doing fine. So essentially what Stefanie does, what that means is that she edits and proofs what I write. She edits and proofs everything we write at Copyblogger.

To be honest, Stefanie is the sort of person I need in my life.

I did graduate from high school. I did get a college degree, but I still struggle with the difference between my ‘who’ and my ‘whom,’ and is it ‘she and me’ or ‘she and I’?

I was thrilled when we hired Stefanie.

Stefanie Flaxman: I was thrilled, too. We were on the same page.

Demian Farnworth: I was very thrilled. I knew we needed you.

My next question to you then is, what is the fascination for proofreading?

Stefanie Flaxman: My personal fascination with it is I know how much work goes into writing. Writing is very difficult.

We have an inside joke — ‘writing is hard’ — that I don’t need to get into, but writing is so difficult.

I admire so many different types of writers. I really admire fiction writers because that is not my style at all. I have to be kind of autobiographical and teaching. Non-fiction-y is just how I naturally write.

There’s so many different types of writers that I admire, but because the job is so hard, or writing is so difficult, that the role of a proofreader to help the writer out is really why I got interested in editing in general.

The fascination is I can help someone with this very difficult job clarify their ideas and really polish what they originally produce so that the end product is something special. I love that collaboration.

Some Things You Write Online Are Actually Permanent (in Other Words, Can’t Be Changed)

Demian Farnworth: That’s fine. Do you think that there is a greater need for proofreading online versus print?

Stefanie Flaxman: Online, it’s funny because there’s so many things that are final.

We think we can go back and change something in texts online. That is true, but the similarity to print is that that first version is probably sent out — if you’re blogging for example — to your email list or through RSS.

You can go back and change a mistake on your site, but the people who subscribe probably got that first version if there is a mistake.

Whether People Are More Forgiving Online or Not

Demian Farnworth: Do you think people are more forgiving online versus in print?

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. I think there is because when you have a physical book in your hand, that’s your world at that time. That’s what you’re focused on.

Robert Bruce said this recently somewhere. I can’t place it, but we’re constantly clicking online. We just want to click, click, click, and scroll. We have this momentum built up, so I feel like it is more forgiving because there’s so much to your world when you’re reading something online.

You have your email client open. You have all these other tabs open. It’s a lot faster.

But a book is a physical book with physical pages. If that’s all you’re looking at, at that time, I think the focus is more on that.

People are forgiving, but it’s this kind of grey area there because that doesn’t give you an excuse to be sloppy.

Demian Farnworth: Good point. Okay. I’m going to dig into Stefanie the proofreader and see what you are made of.

Stefanie Flaxman: Okay.

What Kind of Proofreader Never to Hire

Demian Farnworth: Pretend you are in the supermarket, and you ran down to the store because you needed to grab an avocado and mango for your salad, right? So then you show up to the cash register, and there it is, a sign that says “5 items or fewer.” Does that drive you nuts?

Stefanie Flaxman: That’s such a very interesting rule. ‘Fewer’ is supposed to be used, in general, when you can count the number of items, when it’s not just some infinite number. But there are also a lot of exceptions to that rule because ‘less’ sounds just how we naturally use the language and how it sort of evolved. ‘Five items or less’ sounds a little bit more correct.

Demian Farnworth: But you don’t feel like you have to get our your Sharpie?

Stefanie Flaxman: No. I don’t. I can tell you something similar that does bother me. I wouldn’t have to get out and cross out the item and then get escorted out of the store.

Demian Farnworth: Because certain people have made sort of careers out of that, right? Like they’ve started blogs. We talked about this before I think. Your original blogging was that you were going to hunt down these mistakes, right?

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah.

Demian Farnworth: In a previous life, that would have given you nightmares.

Stefanie Flaxman: I don’t think it was authentic. I think that’s why it didn’t work. At the time I thought, “Oh, okay, well this is a great way to create content,” but it wasn’t really something I was passionate about. That’s why it didn’t stick. That’s why I had to find other type of content to produce.

I think that’s a really good distinction. I was forcing myself to be really stern about things I didn’t really care about that much. I was thinking of this article I wrote on my website, Revision Fairy, a few years ago now.

It was about how much I don’t like when I would point out other people’s errors. I’m so embarrassed — I think really early on, I want to say 2009 — I Tweeted Brian Clark a typo. I’m so embarrassed. I can’t believe I said that.

But then I wrote this thing later. I cringe when I used to point out people’s errors because you don’t get copyediting work that way.

You look like a know it all. Someone might be happy that they corrected the error, but they’re not going to think, “Wow, this person is so great. I’m going to hire them to do copyediting for me.”

That realization if you need help with your writing, it has to come from you really feeling that from within, your own like, “I really don’t know these rules. I need to gather someone.”

At the time when you’re just searching for what works, a lot of people are like, “Oh, they’re going to know I’m such a good proofreader.” This was in the early days of me figuring that.

I didn’t get any work from pointing out someone’s mistake. That’s not how you get work. I really didn’t know any better. It was a good lesson.

Demian Farnworth: Do you consider yourself a fierce defender of the language?

Stefanie Flaxman: I consider myself a fierce defender of the writer.

Demian Farnworth: This is why we like you so much.

Stefanie Flaxman: Thank you. I’m really not a traditional language person, or even traditional about the way that I think about copyediting. I think that’s why I gravitated towards marketing and not other ways that I could get involved with language and writing.

In marketing, there’s a lot of creativity. The bottom line is that you are communicating clearly so that the sale is a no-brainer in copywriting for the protective buyer.

That really comes down to helping the writer get their intention out in the clearest way possible.

The Dead-Wrong Way to Use Language

Demian Farnworth: So there is not a wrong way to use language? There is not a right way or a wrong way to use language?

Stefanie Flaxman: I’d say the wrong way to use language is if no one understands you, but that’s very not technical. I’m not being specific about what that means.

When you’re communicating something that no one is going to understand but you have a really good point in there somewhere, use language because you need to massage out your message so that it comes to the surface.

You have to be aware as a writer that you may not have done that the first time.

When It’s Okay to Make Language Errors or Break Grammar Rules

Demian Farnworth: So you are okay when someone breaks language rules as long as it’s clear?

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. It depends on the situation, but yeah. If it’s clear and it has a lot of substance and it’s groundbreaking writing, the little language errors, little things that might be off from traditional ways we use language …

Demian Farnworth: Experiments.

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah. I think it really depends on the content and the substance.

How Profanity Can Make Your Writing Look Worse

Stefanie Flaxman: Talking about profanity in writing — that just kind of reminded me of it. I kind of have the same rule there.

If you’re writing groundbreaking content, just completely cutting edge, nobody has talked about this before, and the substance is just so valuable for people and really interesting and entertaining and all those good adjectives that go along with good writing, if you have profanity sprinkled in there, it’s not going to hinder the writing.

Where you can get into trouble — even though I don’t personally have an issues with profanity in writing — if you’re writing is subpar and you have profanity in there, it’s just going to make it look worse.

The profanity doesn’t add anything to it. It really depends on the substance.

Going back to if someone experiments with traditional language but the substance is there, that’s what matters to me.

Demian Farnworth: Would it be safe to say that you enjoy language?

Stefanie Flaxman: I do. I enjoy words.

Demian Farnworth: You enjoy words, yes.

Stefanie Flaxman: I enjoy language, too. I like the craft of it. I like crafting words. It’s very artistic to me to put different words, arrange different words next to each other, which I guess is language.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. I have this laminated checklist from my wife. When I started publishing stuff online years ago, she’s been my personal sort of proofreader/editor, but there were six things that I did that just drove her nuts — like if you want to be taken seriously, you can’t be doing that.

She gave me this laminated checklist of six items. She’s like, “Before you hit ‘publish,’ do me a favor. Please, please check your work against this checklist.”

Most of us don’t have the luxury of a professional proofreader or editor. What is the minimum editing or proofreading job that every online writer should do before they hit publish?

Stefanie Flaxman: The most important thing is factoring time into your schedule to take a day away before you actually publish — when you finish writing before you actually publish.

That’s the easiest in terms of, “Oh, you just have to set aside time,” but it’s the hardest because we don’t always have that time.

Demian Farnworth: Because we want to publish it right now.

A Time-Saving Exercise That Will Solve Most of Your Proofreading Problems

Stefanie Flaxman: Right away, or you have to send something off because it’s a deadline.

Another simple trick is also go through your text from the end to the beginning because you’ve been reading it as you’ve been editing and writing from the beginning to the end over and over.

If you’re kind of doing what I call a glossing-over-the-text proofreading, if you do that just one more time — it’s maybe going to take five minutes — but you’re not really getting a huge benefit from just your eyes glossing over the text, again, because you’ve been doing it that way.

But if you reverse the order and read from the end to the beginning, you can do it each word. You can do it each sentence. You can do it each paragraph. Your brain is tricked. You haven’t seen those words in that order and the punctuation in that order.

Demian Farnworth: Right. That’s a wonderful little trick. I like that.

Stefanie Flaxman: Thank you.

Whether Stefanie Is Pro or Anti Oxford Comma

Demian Farnworth: Okay. Let’s close with this. Here at Copyblogger, we use the Oxford comma. Would you say you are pro or anti Oxford comma.

Stefanie Flaxman: I am pro. I look at punctuation as art.

Demian Farnworth: Art. That’s nice.

Stefanie Flaxman: I look at everything as art. To me, it’s art that guides the reader along smoothly.

Demian Farnworth: Would you die on that hill?

Stefanie Flaxman: I don’t think I’d die for punctuation.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, right. I don’t have to worry about that when I see you in Denver, right?

Stefanie Flaxman: No.

Demian Farnworth: Okay, great. Alight, well hey, thank you so much. Why don’t you tell people where they can find you.

Stefanie Flaxman: You can find me, you can find all episodes of my podcast where I talk about more proofreading and editing tips like I talked about right now at EditorinChief.FM. I am on Twitter. My handle is just my name, @StefanieFlaxman, and it is Stefanie with an ‘F.’

Demian Farnworth: Be warned people, if you Tweet her, she will only reply with one word.

Alright, Stefanie, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Stefanie Flaxman: Thank you.

Demian Farnworth: Okay, take care.

Stefanie Flaxman: You too. Bye.

Demian Farnworth: Thank you for listening to Rough Draft.

I value your time. I value your support. I value your attention. Not taking any of that for granted.

By the way, for all of those out there who’ve taken the time to listen to the show, to share the show on social media, to leave a rating or review on iTunes, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’m talking about people like Bonnie David, Darren DeMatas, Jesse Wisnewski, ExistentialElla, Boomtown McWashington, and Bob the Green Guy.

Your support means so much to me.

I love hearing from you, brutal and all.

If you haven’t left a rating or review, jump over to iTunes today.

Tomorrow we wrap up this special week of interviews. We wrap it up with a short interview with Belle Beth Cooper. The Belle Beth Cooper of Buffer app fame is going to share her secrets about rapidly expanding in the audience through content syndication.

It’s such an appropriate way to end the week. Until then, take care.