Incorrect or poorly-written text and untidy layouts can put off your customers and make your organisation look unprofessional. Your documents are a key part of your customers’ experience.

We all know that it is very difficult to proofread your own documents and it is easy to miss errors because you know what the text is supposed to mean. A second pair of eyes always brings a fresh perspective and allows the document to be looked at from a different angle. It is also a mistake to rely solely on spelling and grammar checking tools in your software – these miss a lot of problems, particularly where words are not misspelled but are incorrectly used – for example ‘whether/weather’, ‘their/there/they’re’ and ‘two/too’.

I am able to offer a thorough and professional service covering most aspects of document editing and proofreading. By day, I work as a full-time Technical Author at a large and well-respected organisation, and have done so for over three years now but I have much longer experience in creating and editing documents than that; I was always the person in my team that people went to if they wanted documents created. I have also completed a formal proofreading course, another course in professional written communications and extensive informal training at work.

Proofreading is a final chance to correct errors before a document is published. Errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar can be identified and corrected. Some very common errors such as incorrect use of apostrophes and excessive capitalisation can easily creep into documents. I can also ‘sanity-check’ your document – this involves reading it from the perspective of somebody who knows nothing about the subject. I will bring to your attention anything that is unclear, ambiguous or could be better worded. Another very common problem is with hyperlinks within documents – the files or web pages these lead to can change and make the link useless – this is very frustrating for your users and so I will check that any links in your documentation work.

Types of work

The main types of work I am frequently asked to review are:

  • Policies and procedures; for example, staff policies, local work instructions and so on.
  • User guides and technical specifications.
  • General reports and other documents.
  • Text for graphic design work (such as posters and leaflets) – I am not a graphic designer but can do simple design jobs. I certainly can check and edit your text though before you send it to your designer.
  • Forms – both those intended for electronic completion and forms for printing and manual completion.
  • Flowcharts, process diagrams and organisation charts – I have extensive experience of creating these and can work on documents you have already created and also can create these from scratch if you supply the data.
  • Letters and mail merges – it is vital to ensure that letters you send to your customers or suppliers look professional and get the intended meaning across in a clear and helpful manner. If you send me your data source (usually a spreadsheet or table with names and addresses of the people you want to send to) then I can create letters that are customised for each customer – for example, including their account number or other information. Whether you want a one-off mailshot or a template for future correspondence, I can help you get it right.
  • PowerPoint presentations – the quality of your presentation is key – a well-produced slide show will give off an air of professionalism and may be what gives you the edge over your competitors.
  •  Website text – your website is the ‘shop window’ of your organisation and so should be easy to read and textually correct. Visitors to a website have a short attention span as they’re looking for an answer to their question as quickly as possible so it’s vital to ‘hook’ them to keep them reading within the first couple of sentences.
  • Templates for documents you need to create regularly.

Other work

My main focus is on proofreading and document formatting; however, I have experience in some other areas and welcome queries regarding these – if in doubt, give me a shout.

  • Spreadsheets – I have some experience of using Excel and OpenOffice spreadsheets so should be able to help with most fairly simple jobs. Anything requiring complex formulas though is probably best dealt with by an expert in this field. Something I certainly can help with is tidying up your Excel charts – by default, I think these look a bit naff and it is amazing how much better they look with some tweaking of the layout, text formatting and colour schemes.
  • Access databases – I have over ten years of experience of building complex database systems, with things such as professional-looking and user-friendly custom forms, reports, update queries and Visual Basic. Anything really complex is again, probably better done by an expert but I may be able to help.
  • Simple design work – I have produced magazines, booklets, flyers, forms and posters for a trade union, a local pub and several bands. Indeed my work for the union helped to gain an award for quality of communication materials. I can produce professional and well laid out work of these types; however, if you want something that needs an artist to do then you are better off contacting a graphic designer. Also, please note that you will need to supply any images you wish to include in your work. Special offer – get me to design your work and I will proofread the text for free (as long as it’s not too involved!)
  • If you’re not sure how to best write your text in the first place then get in touch as I have extensive experience of writing text and have received much positive feedback about the quality of my work.

Working to YOUR specification

Most relatively large organisations have a style guide or authors’ guide – this is a document setting out the conventions that should be used within the organisation, for example, date formats, font types and sizes used and conventions regarding how various words should be shown. If you have such a document then I am happy to work to your guidelines if you provide me with a copy of this. I can also help you to create a style guide if you don’t have one but would like one.

 What I can’t do

  • Documents with a legal aspect, such as contracts – I would advise you to get these checked by a legal professional.
  • Complex design work – such as creating artwork. I can do basic design work such as simple posters but not anything that requires an artist or graphic designer. If in doubt, please ask. If I do this type of work then you will need to supply me with artwork and photos, however, please ensure that you have permission to use these. Many organisations simply copy pictures off the Internet and use them; however, unless they’re from a copyright-free site, were created by yourself or have been paid for from a stock photo library then you are technically breaching copyright by using these images.
  • It is also very important that confidential documents are handled appropriately. While I will endeavour to ensure the security of your work and will never divulge anything, I would suggest extremely sensitive work would be best handled by somebody with the appropriate security qualifications.

How do I work?

My preferred way of working is to directly edit your documents electronically. Some customers like to see what I have changed but this can be done easily using the ‘Track Changes’ function in Microsoft Word. Other customers trust me to edit the text directly.

If I find anything that I am unsure about or that I think needs your attention (for example, broken hyperlinks or ambiguous text) then I will bring it to your attention, usually using a comment box in the Word file.

I can also proofread hard copies of documents, although this will incur an additional fee. I can either return your proofread copy by post or can scan it and return it electronically.

File formats

Microsoft Word files are my preferred format, however, I can also edit plain text (.TXT), Rich Text Format (.RTF), Microsoft Works and OpenOffice files. I will also, for an additional fee, proofread PDF documents. The additional fee is because it is usually difficult to extract text from a PDF without needing to reformat it.

I do not currently have the ability to edit Adobe InDesign files but if you export to PDF then I can.

For design work, I use Serif PagePlus. This has most of the features of Adobe InDesign and I can export to PDF. I do have a copy of Microsoft Publisher and while this is not a package I like using, I am happy to reproduce your Publisher work in a better format.

Free trial

Obviously, you are going to be apprehensive about using somebody new for your valuable work so I am happy to offer you a free trial. If you send me your document or a sample from it then I will complete the first page for you with absolutely no obligation. If you aren’t happy with my work then that is fine and you don’t owe me a penny, however, I am confident that you will be satisfied and will want to pay me to produce the rest of the document.

Coming soon – some examples of my work and some general pointers on effective written communications.

Last updated on Wednesday 22 February 2012 by GaryReggae

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