How to proofread a website
As The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course makes clear, not all proofreading takes place in publishing houses. It’s not all literature and manuscripts. Anywhere words are being produced for human consumption, there will be a need for proofreaders.
And nowhere are there more words being produced for human consumption than on the internet. If you were to print out all of the internet’s web pages as if they were the pages of a book, it would be (according to a 2015 report) 300 billion pages long. That’s 305,500,000,000 pages, the equivalent of 212 million copies of ‘War and Peace’.
Obviously, most of those pages are about cats, Harry Potter and naked people (not at the same time), but a large proportion are business websites. In many cases, this will be the only means a company has to communicate with its audience of potential customers. Not all businesses can afford to advertise in magazines or send out glossy brochures. Online real estate offers great value for money.
But where there are words, there are errors. And for any business an error can range from an embarrassing faux pas to a financially damaging catastrophe.
Which is where you step in, to shield businesses from embarrassing faux pas and financially damaging catastrophes. Like Captain America, but with a dictionary instead of a shield.
So, someone asks you to proofread their website. What do you do?
The first thing you do is say, “Sorry, no, I don’t proofread websites.”
Okay, don’t actually say that, but let your client know (as politely possible) that you don’t proofread ‘websites’, you proofread ‘website content’.
Proofreading a website is a potential nightmare. It isn’t like proofreading a document or a manuscript or a piece of print-ready artwork. Why? Because it isn’t linear. You don’t start at the front cover, tackle the front matter, then work your way through in page order. A website is more like… well, a web. Not that any self-respecting spider would appreciate the comparison. Spiderwebs are neat, geometrical things. Websites are, frankly, a mess.
In theory, you could start on the home page and work your way through the main navigation. But not all pages are accessible through the main navigation. What about all those links at the bottom of many websites? Terms and Conditions, Refund Policy, those things? What about all the pages that can only be found through links within the content of other web pages? How do you begin to identify and read those? Well, there is a way, but we’ll deal with that later. For now, we’re going down the ‘website content’ route.
You need to ask your client to provide you with the content that they want you to read. This can be in the form of Word documents or PDFs. If they’re in the process of creating a website, this is easy. They’ll likely produce the content in that form anyway prior to uploading it.
Once you’re in possession of these documents, print them out. As The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course insists time and again: ALWAYS READ FROM A HARD COPY. NEVER FROM THE SCREEN.
Once you’ve sent your corrections to your client, they can correct them and upload them or (if the content is already live) make the necessary amendments themselves or have their web developer do it.
But what if my client isn’t very tech-savvy and wants me to “just proofread the website”?
It’s not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world. Avoid this situation if you can, but if you need the work and this is the only way the client wants to play it, follow the process outlined below.
Firstly, you’re going to need to identify all the web pages that need to be checked.
There are probably a number of ways of doing this, but I’m going to cover two. These are the two I use. Yes, even I get pain-in-the-backside customers who say, “Can’t you just check it on your laptop?”
Get hold of the website’s sitemap. If it has one. Many sites do. Not all. Not even most. But plenty. To find a website’s sitemap, go to the site’s home page then, in the address bar, at the end of the site’s URL add “/sitemap” or “/sitemap.xml”. This should bring up a page showing every page that exists for that site.
Here’s an example:
You’ve been asked to proofread the website for a guy who’s famous for eating crockery. He’s a big deal on YouTube. His website address (or URL) is www.ieatcrockery.com.
So, go to his website and add the suffices I mentioned earlier:
www.ieatcrockery.com/sitemap or www.ieatcrockery.com/sitemap.xml
Hopefully one of these will present you with a comprehensive list of every web page on the site.
But what to do about websites that don’t have a site map?
Well, you could ask your client to generate one. There are websites and applications that can do this. If your client is using the WordPress content management system, then they can install, activate and use a simple plugin. Alternatively, you can use something like XML-Sitemaps.com to generate sitemap.
Another method is to use Google Analytics (or to ask your client to do so). They can go to the ‘Behaviour’ section, then ‘Site Content’ and finally ‘All Pages’. If they set the date parameters for the last 12 months, this will give you a list of all the active pages on the site. The data can be downloaded as a CSV document which can be opened in Excel or most other spreadsheet applications, or it can be downloaded as a PDF. Either way, you are presented with a comprehensive list of web pages.
So, now you know what pages the site is comprised of, you can begin to harvest the content.
The easiest way to do this is to ‘print’ the web page.
This can just be a simple case of hitting ‘Control P’, selecting ‘Destination’ as ‘Save as PDF’ and job done. Depending on the size of the website, within a few minutes (hours, days, weeks…) you’ll have a folder full of web pages ready to proofread.
But not all websites will allow you to print their content and some web pages are formatted in such a way that the content won’t fit onto a single page and remain at a size that is legible.
What if a website's content is protected?
It’s time to start swiping.
You need to go into each page and swipe the content, then paste it into a Word document or similar. Now, this can get messy. Swiping and copying text on a website is not like swiping and copying text in a word document. It’s probably closer to swiping and copying text from a PDF. You can find yourself picking up text from an adjacent paragraph or from a caption. When you’re selecting your text, you might (actually you almost certainly will) click on a link and find yourself on an entirely different web page.
It’s frustrating. It’s long-winded. But it’s necessary.
It’s vital that you shepherd your content from the virtual world of the internet to a format that can be printed out as a hard copy. Because – sorry, I know I keep going on and on about this – ALWAYS PROOFREAD FROM A HARD COPY. NEVER FROM THE SCREEN.
Now, some websites can’t be copied and pasted; there are content-protection measures that prevent it. What then? Well, if your client (or potential client) can’t give you the content in another form, I’d strongly recommend a hard pass. The only exception I’d make is if the website is very light on content with a simple layout.
Proofreading a website: summary
If you have any questions, please feel free to send them via our contact form.
Welcome to this week’s Proofreading Roundup, in a week when a streaming-service movie won the Best Director Oscar at the Academy Awards, the disturbing online phenomena (and moral panic) of Momo hit the headlines, and the World Bridge Federation suspended Geir Helgemo after he failed a random drug test.
This week’s weird words
A proofreader without a vast vocabulary is at a considerable disadvantage. So, every week we’ll be introducing you to some of the more unusual words to grace the English language.
This week’s tricky words
Even exemplary proofreaders have their little blind spots. The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course provides a comprehensive list of the tricky words that can trip up even the most experienced proofreader. Here are just three of them:
This week’s proofreading exercise
From Seller of the Sky by Dave Dryfoos.
"It's winter, my boy. We'd freeze."
"You've said it's pretty in winter! You took the money for the certificate."
"I suppose you'll grow away from your parents soon anyhow; I suppose you have to.... Get your warmest clothes and meet me at emergency exit four."
My grandfather talked it over with his sister Annie and of course they didn't have any warm clothes, but they'd heard so often from Old Arch about the cold that they put on two sets of tights apiece, and two pairs of socks, and then they hunted for the emergency exit.
They'd never been there before. They didn't know anyone who had. The signs pointing to it were all worn and defaced.
And it was a long way to go. After a while Annie began to hang back.
"How do we know the exit will work?" she asked. "And how will we get back in if we ever do get out?"
"You don't have to come," my grandfather said. "But you'll have to find your own way home from here."
"I'll bet I could," she said. "But I'm not going to. I don't think Old Arch will even be at the exit."
But he was.
He looked at them carefully to see how they were dressed. "You mean trouble for me, girl," he told Annie. "They'll think I took you along to make love to."
She had just reached that betwixt and between stage where she was beginning to look like a woman but didn't yet think like one. "Pooh!" she said. "I can run faster and hit harder than you can, Arch. You don't worry me a bit."
Old Arch sighed and led them through the lock. They stepped out into a raging snowstorm, which soon draped a cloak of invisibility over them.
Neither my grandfather nor Annie had ever smelled fresh air before. It threatened to make them drunk. Their nostrils tingled and their eyes misted over and they’re breath steamed up like bathwater. For the first time in their lives, they shivered.
When the City was out of sight in the storm, they stopped for a moment in the ankle-deep snow and just listened. They held their breaths and heard silence for the first time in their lives.
Old Arch reached down and picked up some soft snow and threw it at them. They pelted him back, and then, because he was so old, attacked each other instead, shouting and throwing snowballs and running aimlessly.
Old Arch soon checked them. "Don't get lost," he said. "We're walking downhill. Don't forget that. We're going into a draw where there are some trees."
He coughed and drew his rags about him. "The city is up hill," he said. "If you keep walking around it, you'll find a way in."
His tone was frightening. Annie clung to my grandfather and made him walk close to the old man. It was clear the old man didn't have enough clothes on. He staggered and leaned hard on my grand father.
They kept moving down the slight grade. They saw no sky and little of anything else. The snow was like a miniature of the City's dome, except that this dome floated over them as they walked. Its edges were only about fifty yards off.
"Where are the Outsiders?" my grandfather asked. "Aren't there people here?"
"They're miles away," Arch told him. "And indoors. Only fools and youngsters are out in this blizzard."
"Fool’s is right," Annie said tartly. "There was supposed to be sky. And there isn't."
If you have any comments, I'd love to hear them. You can leave them below.
I hope to see you back here, next week, for another Proofreading Course Weekly Roundup.
If you’re considering a career in proofreading, you might want to consider my great-value proofreading course. Click here for details.
If someone had told me at the outset that, a whole decade later, I’d be running a successful business, I’d have raised an eyebrow, to say the least.
Firstly, this was 2008. Things were not looking good for business. I can’t remember if anyone was using the term ‘The Great Recession’ at that point, but ‘financial crisis’ and ‘subprime mortgage crisis’ were in full circulation. Lehman Brothers had yet to bite the dust, but the writing was on the wall.
The second reason I’d have raised an eyebrow was that it wasn’t really my intention to start a business. Not really.
I was responding to an unfairness, to what I saw as a form of exploitation. Now I could be wrong, and this is just my opinion, but proofreading courses in 2008 were needlessly expensive. I mean, they’re needlessly expensive now, but we’re talking about 2008: Kung Fu Panda and the Sex and the City movie are still doing great box office and John Grisham's The Appeal is dominating the New York Times bestseller list.
Hundreds of dollars for a proofreading course was just wrong. Or at the very least, it was unnecessary.
The qualifications these proofreading courses offered were irrelevant. No one hiring proofreaders was asking for them. I knew that because I’d been hiring proofreaders for years and proofreading qualifications were not a part of any recruitment criteria. I looked at experience, and I had all applicants sit a test. A really tricky test. And that was it. No proofreading qualifications. No. Proofreading. Qualifications.
The assessment process these proofreading courses insisted upon was unnecessary. Why did someone have to ‘mark’ work that was either right or wrong. These were not essays on the themes of justice and corruption in King Lear. These were public domain extracts with deliberate mistakes inserted into them. If they’d provided their students/customers with an answer sheet, they could have omitted the whole costly correspondence aspect of their business model, a cost passed onto you-know-who.
Worst of all, these proofreading courses were expecting you to pay for grammar instruction. There were whole pages on dangling modifiers, split infinitives and when and where to use a semicolon. In 2018, all of that stuff is available free online. There are some fantastic grammar websites, and they won’t cost you a penny. Granted, in 2008, this wasn’t quite the case. The instruction was there but you had to put it together piecemeal. However, for about the cost of a cup of coffee, you could get hold of a second hand grammar book. Even a brand new grammar book would weigh-in at a fraction of the cost of these proofreading courses were expecting you to pay.
Ten years later, and very little has changed. There are still a bunch of proofreading courses out there that are happy to charge you for the unnecessary. And The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course is still here, offering you a great-value alternative.
Ten years. Wow.
I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has bought my proofreading training material over the years and for all those people, like Emma Steel, who have become advocates for The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course.
If you’ve yet to give The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course a try, click here, to find out more. If you have any concerns or questions at all, please feel free to drop me an email here.
The answer is, yes, proofreading courses are worth it. Proofreading isn’t an innate talent; it’s a skill. There are lots of innate qualities that will make you predisposed to proofreading (such as vigilance and patience) but the skill itself really needs to be taught.
A good proofreading course will (or should!) provide you with:
This last point is really the crux of this blog post.
There are lots of proofreading courses out there. Some of them are very good. Some of them are mediocre. In all honesty, I’ve yet to come across a truly bad proofreading course.
However, most of them, whether very good or mediocre provide very little in the way of value. They are, in a word, expensive. In some cases, they are ludicrously expensive.
But why are these proofreading courses so expensive, whilst The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course is just $48.99?
Does The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course cut corners?
No, it most certainly does not. It provides you with items 1 to 10 in the list above. And when it comes to the tenth item on that list, I believe it offers the greatest value of any proofreading course currently available online or anywhere else.
The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course does something those other proofreading courses don’t. It enables you to carry out self-evaluations.
Those other courses provide you with proofreading exercises that you then have to submit for evaluation. This is an expensive process for the course provider, requiring a certain amount of infrastructure and resource.
The thing is, these evaluations are pointless.
Why? Because the proofreading exercises they provide have a definitive set of right answers. They consist of existing pieces of writing that have had deliberate errors shoehorned into the text. If they were simply to provide you with the answers, you wouldn’t need to submit them for evaluation.
The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course does just that.
But, you ask, if they don’t evaluate me, how do I get my proofreading qualification?
The answer to that question is simple. You don’t need a proofreading qualification.
I’ve carried out professional proofreading work for decades and not once have I been asked to produce a proofreading qualification. Moreover, whilst I was responsible for hiring proofreaders, not once did I (or any HR department, for that matter) request a proofreading qualification from any potential candidate for a proofreading role or assignment.
If you find that shockingly unlikely, go into any employment website and search for proofreading roles. Scan through the skills and qualifications needed for the role and you won’t find a single reference to a proofreading qualification. Possibly an English qualification. Possibly a specific technical qualification if the role is in a specialized environment. But never a proofreading qualification.
Put simply, proofreading course don’t need to be expensive. The information can be conveyed in simple eBook form and you can very easily evaluate your own progress.
Are proofreading course worth it? Yes, in the sense that it’s always worth learning the skills, essential even. But are they worth it in the broader, financial sense of the word ‘worth’? To be frank, most of them are not.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who prefer the support structure of a more traditional training method: tutors, classrooms, assignments, assessments, qualifications. And I get that. Some people feel as if they’re not really learning unless all these components are present and correct. But I think most of us would rather save a chunk of cash and have a little faith in ourselves.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Thank you for your time.
If you're interested in giving The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course a try, click here to find out more.
Obviously, I’m biased, but I genuinely believe that The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course gives you the best shot at securing freelance or full-time work as a proofreader. It not only shows you how to proofread, it also tells you how to go about creating and promoting a proofreading business. And it’s ridiculously inexpensive.
However, it’s been brought to my attention by a number of people who’ve bought and profited from The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course that there is an additional advantage to my particular product that I’ve failed to emphasize. Namely, the casual open-door policy I offer to all those who’ve purchased The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course.
This is not something I’ve actively created as part of my business model, to be completely honest. It’s just that if someone emails me with a question or a concern, I think it’s rude not to at least try to provide an answer.
People email me about intricate points of grammar, about what website platform to use, about whether they should accept a particular assignment, about where the line is drawn between proofreading and structural editing, about all kinds of things relating to my proofreading course, proofreading generally or the business side of proofreading. And, so far, I have answered every single email.
Every single one.
So, I want to take this opportunity to formalize this arrangement. From this point on, I will operate a virtual open-door policy for all customers of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. If you have a question, a concern or a conundrum relating to proofreading, feel free to drop me an email. I will do my level best to provide you with an answer within 48 hours. Now, obviously, I’m just one man, so there will be times, very occasionally, when I will not be able to honor this arrangement. But I will do my absolute best.
If you wish to contact me, please use the form on the contact page, that way I will be able to alert you to any availability issues.
As you may have noticed, I've added rather a lot of extra bonus materials to The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. All of these are designed to augment your proofreading skills, assist you in securing employment or running your own proofreading business.
Before I go into a little more detail, I'd just like to assure any customers who have purchased The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course in the last year or so, who may be feeling a little agrieved (and quite rightly so!) that I'm more than happy to send you the additional freebies if you get in touch via the Contact page. Proof of purchase would be useful but I'm not going to insist upon it.
Anyway, here's a little preview of those shiny new freebies:
This is a cheap proofreading course. No doubt. I mean, it’s just £19.99, a fraction of the cost of any other proofreading course. But the word ‘cheap’ is so, well, nasty. It reeks of corners cut and compromise without principal. And The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course is, despite the price tag, a quality product: clear, concise and, above all, useful. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a quality product because of the price tag, because of the (pardon my French) the cut-the-crap approach.
So, what else to call it? An affordable proofreading course? An inexpensive proofreading course? An economical proofreading course? A low-cost, reasonably priced, easy-on-the-pocket proofreading course? They’re all accurate but there’s still that whiff of concession.
But what about this: a value-engineered proofreading course?
I don’t know about you but I like it.
Value engineering is a systematic method to improve the "value" of goods or products and services by using an examination of function. Value, as defined, is the ratio of function to cost. Value can therefore be increased by either improving the function or reducing the cost, provided the reduction in cost doesn’t impair the function.
I feel reasonably confident that I’ve achieved this with The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course.
You don’t have to take my word for it; read a testimonial here. Or just give the eBook a try. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee. If, after reading the book, you don’t feel it’s put you on the path to pursuing genuine, professional proofreading assignments, just drop me an email and I’ll issue you with a refund in full, no questions, no quibbles.
What have you got to lose?
The second edition of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course is now available.
It isn’t drastically different from the first edition. Primarily it’s an exercise in clarification, higher production values and the smoothing-off of a few rough edges. The only significant addition has been made at the request of a number of readers who asked for a downloadable compilation of some of our more instructional blog entries. Rather than create a separate document, we’ve aggregated these blog posts and included them as an appendix to the second edition.
For those of you who bought the first edition (just let me say, thank you very much, your patronage is greatly appreciated) we wouldn’t want you to feel cheated, so we’ll be sending you a link to a free copy of the new edition. In fact, we hope to do this for all subsequent editions. So, once you buy The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course, you’ll receive succeeding editions in perpetuity. I’ll be in touch with each of you over the next few days.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’ve changed the look of the website to reflect the design characteristics of the new edition. Let us know what you think.
We've also changed address. We're now at www.proofreading-course.com. Don't worry if you've bookmarked us as you should be redirected automatically from the old domain anyway.
Thanks to everyone for their support and all the positive feedback.
Next stop: the third edition!
If there’s one recurring message throughout this blog, it’s this: never, never, never pay for proofreading exercises. Never. If a proofreading course boasts proofreading exercises as part of its offer, then the chances are you are paying for them when you pay for the course. Which is crazy, because the internet is heaving with free proofreading exercises; you just need to know where to look.
If there is another recurring message running through this little blog of mine, then it is the importance of testimonials in creating a sturdy reputation for yourself as a freelance proof reader.
And, more often than not, the two go hand in hand. Wherever there are free proofreading exercises, there are plentiful opportunities for harvesting testimonials.
I’ve already mentioned writing forums, Yahoo! Answers and Constant Content. Well, here’s another great source of free proofreading exercises/testimonials:
That’s the URL for Duotrope. Duotrope is a resource to help writers find publishers who are currently seeking submissions. I know what you’re thinking: Well, that’s great if you’re an aspiring writer, but I’m an aspiring proof reader. What’s in it for me?
On the face of it, Duotrope is a resource for writers, but dig a little deeper and you find a massive database of publishers. Lots of these publishers fall under the category of ‘small press’ and are unlikely to be able to afford the services of professional proof readers. So, when you get in touch offering free proofreading services in exchange for testimonials (providing you do a good job, of course), I’d be surprised if they didn’t jump at the opportunity to work with you.
Just think how impressive it will look on your resume or website to have testimonials from companies with names like Woodland Press, Hourglass Books and Permuted Press?
Well, what are you waiting for?
On the sales page of this website and in the introduction to The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course itself, I advise my readers to be wary of any proofreading course which includes modules or chapters on the subject of grammar and proper English usage. The reason I counsel caution with regard to this is simple: why pay for something which is available elsewhere relatively cheaply (Fowler’s Modern English Usage) or completely free (The Plain English Campaign website)? It’s what the kids call a ‘no-brainer’. Apparently.
Well, I’ve just stumbled upon another fantastic free resource, offering comprehensive instruction on the subject of grammar and English usage. It’s an online training course provider called Alison and you’ll find it here.
There are a whole host of individual free courses available, from IT and mathematics to chemistry and economics. The course you’re likely to be interested in is called ‘English Grammar Rules’ and it is described thus:
“This free online course offers a comprehensive revision of English grammar. It is designed for those already fluent in English, but who want to improve their writing. It covers punctuation and grammar, from commas and colons to adverbs and prepositions. By completing this course, you will see a marked improvement in your written English. Each section breaks down the rules into easily assimilated explanations. There is a section on spelling. This course is ideal for anyone looking to improve their written and indeed spoken English.”
All you need to do is sign up (which is free) and go here. Then, one push of a button and you’re off.
I really can’t recommend this highly enough for those of you who feel their grammar skills may need a little bit of an overhaul before they attempt to embark on a proofreading career.
Best of luck.
“I am one of those many fools who paid a huge amount of money for a useless course. This book... has opened so many doors for me. I now look on Mike as my mentor as I embark on a career. Thank you Mike.”
Emma Steel, Proofreader and International Structural Editor.
“ I thoroughly enjoyed the course and am so glad that I decided to take it... the whole experience was invaluable. My proofreading service is now well established and your course played no small part in getting it off the ground.”
Hache L. Jones, Proofreader.
“I'd just like to thank you first of all for writing such a great, straight forward eBook, and then going above and beyond what I would even expect as a customer by providing us, completely free of charge, updated versions months later!”
Rachel Gee, Trainee Proofreader.
“What can I say? Worth every penny and then some! God Bless! This a fabulous course.”
Teresa Richardson, Proofreader.
“As someone who has effectively been proofreading for thirty years, I found Mike’s No-Nonsense Proofreading Course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of this discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it as the ideal starting point, and much more besides.”
Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
My name's Mike Sellars and I'm an experienced proofreader and the author of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. Click here to find out more about me.
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“As someone who has been proofreading for 30 years, I found Mike’s course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of the discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.” Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
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