Quality as Standard: Our Proofreading Checklist

Every site we build goes through rigorous technical and quality checks before being released into the wild. I’m involved in the quality side as part of the editorial team who are responsible for proofreading the content.

There’s a simple reason for all the checks we do prior to making a site live: visitors to your site will judge you for the mistakes they find. And that judgement could be the difference between recruiting a student or attracting a new member of staff/partner/funder, or not.

Here’s our checklist of things to look out for.

Spelling and grammar

First on the list is a check to make sure there are no typos or spelling mistakes – we get help with this from SiteImprove.

We’ll also check the grammar. A misplaced comma can make a massive difference to the meaning of a sentence.

Clarity and consistency

We’ll check to make sure content is as clear as possible. Sentences and paragraphs should be short. Content should be direct and helpful – if you’re inclined to ramble, beware.

We’re looking for use of plain English. We’ll remove jargon, caveats and unnecessary words.

We’re also looking out for cases of repetition – within the page and across the site.

Currency and accuracy

Part of the proof is to make sure content is current and accurate. When we’re migrating sites we begin with a snapshot of content, and this can often go out of date during the development phase. The most common instance is where deadlines have passed.

Content and editorial standards

We have a set of content and editorial standards that help us maintain consistency across the University website. You can get a flavour of these standards through our quick guides series. Part of our proofreading is to make sure content meets these standards.

Sense check

We always make sure that someone who hasn’t worked on the content before takes on the role of proof reader. This fresh pair of eyes is more likely to spot anything that doesn’t make sense and might confuse the user.

Give it a go

Why not use our proofing checklist to make sure anything you publish on your site meets the web team’s standards. We’ve produced a content quality checklist (PDF: 74KB) to help with this.

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Editing Other People’s Content

So you’ve attended our Writing for the Web training and you know all about the inverted pyramid and writing concise, scannable web content. Now you’re faced with a request to add some new content to the website…

It’s a wall of text – full of long sentences, a lot of jargon and it’s about a topic that you don’t have any subject knowledge of. A feeling of dread washes over you, questions start racing through your mind. How will I prioritise the information? How can I shorten sentences when I don’t really understand them? What are the important points that I need to emphasise with bold or a bulleted list?

In our recent Writing Web Content training there were a few questions about how to edit other people’s content – particularly how to prioritise and edit complex content.

In Corporate Web Development (CWD) we face this challenge on a daily basis. In this post I’m going to share my top five tips for editing other people’s content.

1. Find out the purpose of the content

For any webpage you create you need to know why you’re creating the page and how it fits into your site purpose.

You need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • who am I creating this page for? (your users)
  • what do the users want to find out? (their questions/tasks)
  • what does the organisation want the user to do after reading your content? (business goals)

Without these answers you’ll struggle to edit the content so it’s important to speak to the subject-expert or the person who provided the content.

Discuss with content author

Set up a meeting with, or speak to, the author of the content so that you can find out the purpose of the content.

initial face-to-face or verbal briefings need to give content creators an understanding of where their work will sit in terms of the wider project and give them the chance to ask initial questions

Jackie Kingsley, Sticky Content

Armed with the knowledge of who the users are, their tasks, and what the author wants to achieve, you’ll have the confidence to start prioritising and reconfiguring the content for the web – and deleting any unnecessary words!

It’s also important to get the agreed content purpose in writing and send to all involved. This acts as a written record so that you have something to refer to when editing and it makes it clear and transparent for everyone involved.

2. Agree deadlines

It’s important to agree on specific deadlines.

It’s impossible to keep your content production slick and manageable without well-enforced deadlines

Rhiannon Jones, Sticky Content

There might be deadlines for:

  • completing a first pass edit and sending content back to the author
  • the author and stakeholders to send amends
  • the author and stakeholders to sign off content
  • content to go live on the site

Again getting deadlines in writing (even if it’s just an email) gives you a written record to refer back to. Then, if additional content is needed or if the author misses the deadline for sign-off, the record shows there will be an impact on content going live.

3. Take ownership of the content

When editing other people’s content all the rules of writing for the web still apply. Often as editors we can feel nervous about changing someone else’s words but it’s important not to fall back into the role of a content-putter-upper.

You’re the one publishing the content so it’s important that you take ownership of it. Remember you will probably know more about writing for the web than the author so it’s up to you to edit the information so that it’ll work across devices.


If possible, get someone else to check the content after editing and before sending back to the author.

In an ideal world no one will proof copy they have created. That’s because it’s extremely difficult to see your own mistakes

Jackie Kingsley, Sticky Content

Again, if you’ve got the purpose of the content from the author in writing you can use this at the proofing stage.

Content can also be checked against the written brief during the QA process

Jackie Kingsley, Sticky Content

4. Ask the author to check for accuracy only

When you send the content back to the author for sign off, ask them to check for accuracy only. It’s important that the facts are correct, which may have been misinterpreted through the nature of editing. However, you don’t want lots of opinions about style, tone or format as the content has already been edited for the web.

I often find it helpful to compile a document of any content gaps or questions that I’ve come across while editing the content. You can also use this document to explain any editing choices you’ve made and why the edited content works better for different devices. Again, a written record makes everything clear and transparent.

5. Schedule time to review content

Often content is edited and polished before it’s published but then after it goes lives it’s left to languish on the site. Links become broken and content becomes out of date – resulting in frustrated users and the credibility of the site being questioned.

So whatever the content you’re editing, however small it might be, make sure you schedule in time to review it. Speak to the author about whether it is still relevant to their business goals and their users’ tasks.

Share your tips

And that’s my whistle stop tour of editing other people’s content.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve got a challenging editing situation, or share your tips for editing other people’s content.

Further reading and references

Related posts

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How to Improve the Readability of Your Webpages

Readability for websites isn’t just about people understanding the words, although of course that’s a massive part of it.

After all, if you can’t understand what the words are trying to tell you, you’ll just leave the site without the answers to your questions.

We’ve proven it time and time again – the readability of complex information can be improved by using clear, easy to understand English. It’s just making sure more people can understand it.

What I’d like to focus on for this post is some tips about the other elements that can affect readability; prioritisation of content, page layout, the use of design, and ease of navigation.

Prioritisation of content

What is it that people really need to know about on your page? If you identify it, you can prioritise the content to improve readability. Content should always be created and designed with the user’s needs in mind.

For example, here’s a screen shot of the old version of the postgraduate ‘How to Apply’ section. It had low readability; complex information, use of jargon and too many words! Your eye is also drawn to the box in the middle of the page, which was a little distracting.

example of a hard to read page

Old version of the application page (select to view expanded image)

We reviewed the section, identifying the purpose of the content (get people to apply) and  got to work editing.

We use page titles to help accurately introduce the content for people. A change of title from ‘Newcastle University Application Form’ to a very clear ‘How To Apply’ certainly helped…

Also, editing reduced the content from 12 to just four pages.

example of an edited page

New edited version of the application section (select to view expanded image)

Another way we have improved readability is to use introductions on pages. This ensures people can quickly read a descriptive summary of the page. Take a look at Linda’s post about how to write great introductions.

Page layout

We reviewed the page layout or format, quickly deciding a step-by-step guide would be most effective at helping people though the application process. We even added a relevant video to support our primary messages.

content page with tabs

Pages of content were re-worked into a simple step-by-step guide using tabbed content (select to view expanded image)

Use of design

We’ve blogged before about how design can help people navigate around your site, but it can also help draw attention to key content/things you want people to do.  And no…I’m NOT talking about flashing animation here, but more subtle design devices.

I’ll explain – we often use expandable boxes on pages to hold content for specific audiences. It’s so that content can be seen – but doesn’t have to be opened unless it is relevant to you.

We use expandable content on the Undergraduate website for a long list of entry requirements, see the screen shot below. Don’t panic at all the options! Relax and simply choose the content relevant to you…

Image of expandable boxes on the undergraduate website

Using expandable boxes in content to help readability (select to view expanded image)

Test, test and test again

We’ve tested the content on the new postgraduate application pages using Clarity Grader (a website content analysis report) and the results are really positive:

Readability has increased from 48 to 55 (we aim for 60).

Long sentences (harder to read) were at a whopping 19.69% before we re-developed the page and have decreased to 7.97% (we aim for 5%).

This is all the more impressive when you consider the content is mostly complex and detailed information on application procedures.

Final tip

One of the key things to remember – is that you can always go back to pages and improve readability. It might be a slight tweak to a sentence, or a layout change – the main thing is that you can always improve it.

We ran some extensive testing on the postgraduate content. After all, a lot of what we did, not just to the content, but to the layout and design, then formed the master plan for Go Mobile – so it needed to be right. Did we do it?

Oh yes. You can read about the excellent results in an earlier post of mine. A particular favourite is the below word cloud created from user feedback about first impressions of the postgraduate website. The most popular words that users used to describe the site included: easy, simple and clear.

Word cloud showing first impressions of the PG website

Go on, take the challenge – have a go! Choose one of your pages and see how you’d improve readability. I’d love to hear what you get up to!

Related posts

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Decluttering Your Website: How to Prepare for Go Mobile

As we embark on phase 2 of Go Mobile, eager editors across the University are asking when their site will be going through the process. We’re thrilled that our editors are keen to get started.

We’re still finalising the schedule for phase 2. In the meantime, there’s plenty you can do to prepare your site for Go Mobile. In fact, the more you do beforehand the easier the process will be.

Delete, delete, delete

One of the most useful tasks you can do to prepare for Go Mobile is to delete any clutter from your site. Delete old versions of documents, images and logos that you’re no longer linking to in your content.

Similarly, delete old news and events items that are no longer relevant. If this information is still needed, rework it. For example, you could write a review of an event that has already taken place.

Check the currency of your content and consider whether it’s still relevant.

If content is out of date and no longer relevant to your site purpose it’s best to delete it. For more information about how out of date information can harm your website read Jane’s blog post: Why Deleting Old Stuff on Your Website is Good.

Check the accuracy of your content

It might seem like a dull task but ensuring that your content is accurate is crucial to the credibility of your site.

Users will be less likely to trust what you say if your content is littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, or if a link leads to nothing but a dead end. As pointed out by Kara Pernice from the Neilsen Norman Group, a link is a promise.

Tools like Siteimprove can help to find broken links and misspellings on your site.

Improve readability

The easier content is to understand the more accessible your message will be to your target audience.

Online readers are more task-focused and tend to scan content rather than read it all. Smaller screens increase this behaviour. So it’s essential to optimise your content for a smaller screen so that users can understand your content on any device they view it on. Part of this involves deleting unnecessary words.

For advice on optimising content for mobile take a look at our top five tips for writing for the web. An effective tool for identifying the readability of your writing is the Hemingway Editor.

Source new assets

As you’ll find out when you attend our Website Media Management training, images need to be larger in the new template. This is so that they retain their quality across all devices.

The majority of images that currently exist on your site won’t be big enough to work in the new template. Sourcing the original images will therefore give you a head start for when your site goes through Go Mobile. Check our Go Mobile Demo site for an idea of the new image sizes.

Go Mobile is an opportunity to check that your imagery is effectively supporting your messages. For guidance on sourcing imagery read Jane’s blog post on improving your website images and videos. For advice about editing images read Emma’s post: Editing Images for Use on Your Website.

Insights into Go Mobile

Find extra tips from editors who have already been through the Go Mobile process in our series of guest posts. Fiona Simmons from the Institute of Social Renewal talks about her experience of Go Mobile. Ivan Lazarov from the Press Office shares his reflections on the Go Mobile training.


So that’s a whistle stop tour of how you can prepare your site for Go Mobile. The most helpful thing you can do is to review your content. Make sure it will be readable on a mobile phone and delete old content and assets that are no longer relevant to your messages. Go forth and declutter!

Get in touch

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about preparing your site for Go Mobile.

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Content Governance: People, Processes and Policies

I’m not sure why I’ve drawn the short straw here: I get to introduce you all to the idea of content governance. Wait, don’t leave yet!

2005: we had websites with no direction

We only have to roll back about 10 years to see what our website was like with minimal governance. We had duplicated content all over the place. There were sites that didn’t follow our branding. We had a team of content-putter-uppers who just did but didn’t ask why.

What’s changed?

We still get asked to “just build a website” or “stick some content on this page”. But, nowadays, the answer is just as likely to be “no” as “yes”.

This is because we have content policies, style guides, training and the right people: our content governance.

Going mobile is helping us with content governance

We’re using the Go Mobile programme to reinforce the importance of governance. There are some elements to making it a success: people, lifecycle, style guides and training.


With each new project we’re making sure we have at least one named editor. This means we’ve got a person in post whose job it is to manage the website and its content.

We’re still not 100% there. Web editor roles are often part of another post at the University. We are getting some accountability. And we’re working on making sure content editors have enough time to edit.

Content life cycle

Each Go Mobile site development isn’t just a project with an end date. We’re planning reviews of site content to make sure we’re maintaining quality.

We’re working with editors to introduce content management tools. These include editorial calendars, analytics and Siteimprove.

Style guides

We’ve had a set of web content standards from day one. We’ve just not been good at letting people know about them or enforcing them.

Go Mobile is raising awareness not only that our standards exist but also of their importance. These are not rules for the sake of it. They’re there to help our site users access the content they need on all devices.

If content doesn’t meet our standards, we have the authority to say it doesn’t go live.


We can’t write a style guide, leave it hidden in a cupboard somewhere and then moan if people don’t use it! So we’ve developed training to help communicate our standards. We’ve produced a demo site that presents our new content design in the context of our standards.

Beyond Go Mobile

Through Go Mobile, we’re developing a skilled group of content editors. They are responsible for our web content and will be ambassadors for maintaining quality websites.

We’ve bench-marked our sites. We know how well they score for readability and whether they follow our new standards.

We’re planning to review sites around 6-8 months after they’ve launched. This will help us make sure we’re maintaining quality.

Content governance covers much more than I’ve outlined here – if we can get this right though, we’re well on our way to managing our web content effectively.

Let us know in the comments how you keep on top of content quality. Do you have any formal content governance?

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