The 5 Most Common Proofreading Errors Marketers and Business Writers Make

Closeup photo of a woman's hands on top of paper with red markup. She is holding a red pen and is marking up errors on a document.
How many of these common proofreading errors do you make regularly? (Photo: Lamai Prasitsuwan)

Whether you’re writing marketing copy, educational material, or even something as seemingly simple as an email, you may feel fairly confident in your ability to write correctly.

But, as many professional writers know, writing is not as simple as it may seem. Even the most skilled writers will occasionally have proofreading errors—some small, some embarrassingly obvious.

The fact is, the human brain is simply not wired to catch mistakes in our own writing. We are built to recognize patterns and to skim over any inconsistencies.

The reason for this? Simple.

Processing every single detail is usually not necessary to understand something.

While scanning and skimming works well enough for day-to-day life, it can be counterproductive when you’re doing something detail-oriented, such as proofreading. That’s why most organizations that frequently produce written content seek out professional business proofreading services.

The following mistakes are some of the most common proofreading errors that writers miss. We see them all the time in our day-to-day work at Super Copy Editors.

The next time you’re writing something, try to see if you can spot any of these mistakes—you might be surprised by how often they occur.

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1. Homophones

Homophones are words that have a similar sound but different meanings.

Since most people speak more than they write, they will mix up these words frequently. This is especially true when you’re writing quickly and aren’t thinking too hard about what you’re writing.

Some of the most common homophones include:

  • Accept/except
  • Affect/effect
  • By/buy
  • Capital/capitol
  • Compliment/complement
  • Its/it’s
  • New/knew
  • Premiere/premier
  • Principal/principle
  • Right/write
  • Than/then
  • There/their/they’re
  • To/too/two
  • Which/witch
  • Whose/who’s
  • You’re/your

Homophone mistakes can make your writing look unprofessional and less credible.

Online spelling detectors, such as the ones built into Microsoft Word or Google Docs, may be able to catch some of these common proofreading errors, but a lot of the time, they don’t.

The biggest weakness of spell-checker is its ignorance of homophones … which humans screw up a lot, according to June Casagrande, a writer and grammar expert. Computer spell-checkers are notoriously ill-equipped to catch these errors, she said.

That’s why it’s important to carefully proofread your own work or get a professional proofreading service to give it a final pass.

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2. Accuracy With Numbers and Fact-Checking

You already know you can’t just make up facts and statistics.

But even if you’re taking your facts from a reputable source, you might still end up writing inaccurate information.

How? Usually from typos, misremembering, or bungled transcriptions.

Whenever you’re including a date, number, statistic, fact, or other piece of concrete information, double-check that you have the details right. You may be surprised by just how often a date gets transcribed into the wrong year or a percentage gets switched around. There’s a big difference between “99%” and “.99%.”

Types of information you should always double-check for accuracy include:

  • Statistics and percentages
  • Dates, including birthdays and other significant events
  • Names of people, places, and businesses
  • Job titles
  • Physical addresses
  • Email addresses
  • Quotes from outside sources
  • Other forms of facts and objective information

If you don’t have a lot of experience with fact-checking or don’t know how to do it, you can always hire a professional service like Super Copy Editors to do it for you.

This is a pull-quote of text that says, "Your brain operates on instincts and is not wired to catch mistakes in your own writing. You’ll need to train yourself to zero in on any mistakes."

3. Inconsistencies

Another common proofreading error has to do with inconsistencies in formatting, grammar, and spelling.

When you style a date as “Dec. 1, 2022” on one page of your document, but it appears a few pages later styled as “December 1st, 2022,” that’s a problem.

It takes an eagle-eyed proofreader to spot every inconsistency, especially in a long document.

Often, these errors get ignored because they’re not usually wrong on an individual level—it’s just a matter of alignment with the rest of the document. The only way you can catch them is by scanning your entire document and spotting every time you write the same term.

Some common inconsistencies include:

  • Dates: January 4, 1997; 4th January 1997; 4 January 1997; January 4th, 1997
  • American, Canadian, and British English: canceled/cancelled, color/colour, license/licence, program/programme
  • Times: 3:00 p.m., 3 p.m., 3 PM, 15:00, 3 o’clock
  • Numbers: 5/five
  • Compound words: proof-reading, proofreading, proof reading
  • Double and single quote marks: “He said it was great.” ‘He said it was great.’
  • Layout: hyphens (-), en dashes (–), em dashes (—); one or two spaces after periods
  • Capitalization: Title Case, Sentence case, UPPERCASE
  • Symbols: +/plus, %/percent, &/and

You can either follow a predetermined style guideline, such as Associated Press, Chicago, or APA, or you can create your own “house style.”

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4. Incomplete Sentences and Run-Ons

Fragments, comma splices, and run-ons commonly occur when you’re writing quickly, and they usually appear at least a few times per document.

Some are easy to spot and are just the result of writing without thinking too hard, but others will be missed by even experienced writers.

  • Fragment: “The water was cold. Because of the snow melt.” (Easy fix: “The water was cold because of the snow melt.”)
  • Comma splice: “We went to the park, we went to the beach.” (Easy fix: “We went to the park and then to the beach.”)
  • Run-on: “The store was out of eggs I went to the new store it had eggs.” (Easy fix: “The store was out of eggs. I went to the new store, and it had eggs.”)

When you’re proofreading your document, watch out for sentences that don’t appear to have a complete thought or appear to have too many complete thoughts. Make sure the subjects and verbs of your sentence are in agreement. If a sentence feels confusing and hard to follow, try splitting it up into multiple sentences.

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5. Structure and Formatting Problems

While this may not be important for all types of writing, in general, if you are planning to publish a document in roughly the same format as you’re writing it, you have to have consistent formatting rules.

Make sure these things are all in alignment in your document:

  • Indentations and margins
  • Font, font size, and color
  • Title, heading, and subheading size and capitalization
  • Line spacing between paragraphs, sentences, and new sections
  • Proper alignment: Whether left, right, or center, keep titles the same and keep paragraphs the same

Don’t forget! Download “The 5 Most Common Proofreading Errors Marketers and Business Writers Make” to keep it handy and take action on it. Click here to download it now.

How to Catch All of These Common Proofreading Errors

If all of the above seems like a lot of different things to keep track of, that’s because it is. Proofreading can take a lot of time and energy—especially if you’re not used to doing it.

If you want to make your life a bit easier, you can always hire a professional team to catch common proofreading errors (and much more) for you.

At Super Copy Editors, we offer tailored business proofreading services to help you not only eliminate mistakes, but also clarify your message and delight your readers—so you can get back to focusing on other matters in your business. Go get your free, no-obligation proofreading quote now.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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