Writing for Business

by Steve Roche


Proofreading is the careful reading of a yet to be printed or published document to detect errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar. It may also involve checking the document’s layout (headlines, paragraphs, illustrations and colour) for their correct placement, dimensions, and so on. Proofreaders check written material including books, magazines, newspapers, ezines, websites, catalogues, brochures, pamphlets, advertisements, manuals, emails, reports, labels and so on.

Proofread carefully to see if you any words.


In 2006, sharp-eyed bargain hunters noticed that Italian airline Alitalia was advertising a flight from Toronto to Cyprus at the cut price of $39 instead of the usual $3,900. By the time the airline noticed the error, 2,000 tickets had been snapped up. Alitalia decided to honour the low price, which meant a small proofreading mistake (not seeing that two zeros had been left off the price) had cost the airline $7.72 million .

A worse mistake had been made the year before by a trader on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He had been trying to sell one share of J-Com Co for ¥610,000 during live trading. Unfortunately, he entered the sale into the system as 610,000 shares for ¥1. The sale had to go ahead and cost his company at least ¥27 billion (about $225 million) .

Proofreading is examining your text (or somebody else’s) carefully to find and correct typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. These two examples show how costly such mistakes can be and why proofreading is so crucial.

I do my best proofreading right after I hit ‘send’


Why should you proofread written material?

All your organisation’s written material should communicate a clear message and the company’s brand values to your customers or clients. Proofread copy (text) will improve readers’ understanding and ensure you’re conveying your intended message. Inaccurate, poorly drafted copy will give readers the impression that the organisation that created it is sloppy.

The term ‘proofreader’ comes from the publishing industry and refers to someone who ‘proves’ or tries out a typesetter’s work. Typically, a copy editor analyses, processes and transforms an author’s copy into intelligible, easy-to-understand prose and sends it to a typesetter. A proofreader checks the written text after it has been edited and typeset but before it is printed or published. He or she provides a final quality check to make sure that nothing has been missed by the copy editor.

In a business context, you may be asked to combine the roles of a copy editor and a proofreader. In that case, you will need to ensure the copy (the main text, headings, subheadings, captions, footnotes and endnotes, table of contents and the index) makes grammatical sense, is free from spelling and other mistakes and reads well. You will also need to check the formatting is correct.

As a proofreader, you will need to ensure:

  • There are no typographical, grammatical or spelling errors
  • All the material is included and is in the right place
  • Page numbers are in the right order
  • The document follows the 'house style' (the organisation’s preferred writing and formatting style for all its documents and publications)
  • Chapter titles match the list of contents
  • There are no confusing word, column or page breaks
  • Illustrations have the right captions and relate to the text
  • The layout is logical and attractive.

Proofreading is vitally important, hard to do well, and tedious as hell.

Brian Clark