Rochi Zalani on Proofreading

"Leave comments for yourself while writing the draft and address them while editing."

When you're working as a team of one, proofreading is even more crucial as you may be the only one who can catch your flaws before publication.

As a freelance writer with bylines in Zapier's blog, Business Insider, Fast Company, and more, Rochi Zalani has proofreading down to a detailed system to ensure no bit of good content goes to waste—and no mistake makes it to press.

Here's Rochi on her writing and proofreading workflow:

What's your favorite thing you've written recently?

An article I wrote recently for Zapier about creating detailed outlines while writing blog posts. I loved jotting down my process, communicating with other freelance writers to learn more about how they work, and writing something from my own (and other writers’) experience rather than relying on external research.

What's your standard writing workflow?

Step 1: Content brief

If the client has a specific topic in mind, I ask them for a content brief. This usually includes details like the objective’s piece, SEO requirements, competitors I should steer clear of, and any specific pointers they’re hoping to hit. If they have their own content brief, awesome! I simply ask follow-up questions if the brief isn’t detailed. If they don’t have their own content brief, I share mine and ask them to fill it out. I skip this step if I’m the one pitching the topics we should write about (because then I have control over hashing out the details myself).

Step 2: Outline

Based on the brief, I create a detailed outline. I prefer to do most of the work in this stage—finding stats & data, keeping images ready, and highlighting internal links. I divide the outline into sections using H2s and H3s in Google Docs.

Step 3: Feedback on the outline

I do my best to make sure the outline is a conversation. I make specific suggestions for things we should include/erase and ask the editor to do the same. It minimizes a lot of edits in the draft stage. Once the feedback is done, I move ahead to the drafting stage on the client’s approval.

Step 4: Writing the first draft

I try to make this process as quick as possible (and the detailed outline helps a ton for keeping it fast). I write the first draft without caring for grammar, SEO, and other writing principles.

Step 5: Self-editing

After at least 24 hours (I try to make it 48), I self-edit the draft. I modify a TON in this stage—making sure everything is grammatically correct, minimizing passive voice sentences, and make sure I'm following SEO guidelines. This is also the stage where I often restructure the article (if required)—like moving around sections if they don’t make sense, making sure each paragraph is its own point, ensuring everything we promised in the intro is shared in the article.

Step 6: Title, meta description, and more.

Finally, I add the title ideas, meta description, and other things to make the client’s job easier. Having a crack at the titles is easier once I have zoomed in to the deep end of the piece. I add a table for this before the draft in the Google Doc itself.

Step 7: Client edits

I do any changes the client needs in this stage. Thankfully, most clients only need minor changes because most of the feedback was done in outlining.

Step 8: Checking the published version

I often read the published version to ensure no typos and silly mistakes. It also helps me get a sense of what the editor edited. For example, did they erase a section? Rewrite a paragraph? This helps me better understand what I might be missing, where I can improve, and specific clients’ guidelines.

What's your favorite way to proofread your work and spot things to change?

I have a series of fixed things I do while self-editing/proofreading:

  • Waiting at least 24 hours (better if you can make it 48).
  • Reading it in a different background (example, Grammarly). Changing font or font size does the trick too.
  • Reading the piece aloud (favorite for catching any typos, and “weird” sentences).
  • I also have a personalized “self-editing checklist.” After so much writing and feedback, I made a Trello list of some common writing crutches. I ensure I don’t make them by combing through this list and checking for potential mistakes in the draft. It also includes basic (but common) mistakes I might make—like writing out a number below ten instead of spelling it out.
  • Self-commenting. I have a tendency to forget things, so I often leave comments for myself while writing the draft (and address them while editing). For example, “make sure to address this later” for something I’ve mentioned in the intro. Or, “remember the client mentioned XYZ” about something stylistic that’s easy to forget.

What do you do with the things you cut?

I have two Google Docs for each article I write: One for myself (it’s messy, cluttered, and something only I could navigate) and one for the client (neat and put-together).

I have a separate section of “Things cut” at the end of the draft in my Google Doc version. It only includes swaths of paragraphs or sections I’ve erased (and not the small style or restructure changes).

I do this because:

a) The client may ask in their editing stage to add more to the section I had erased from (happens sometimes). This way, I don’t lose the work and have something ready for them quicker.
b) I have a writing niche that often requires overlapping research, examples, and quotes. Things I’ve cut in one article may be helpful for another.

What's your ideal editing workflow?

  1. Write the draft and leave comments for yourself for things you might forget
  2. Breathing space for 48 hours
  3. Self-editing with significant changes—restructuring, grammar, SEO, style, etc.
  4. Reading the piece in a different background/with a different font/ with a different font size
  5. Reading the piece aloud
  6. Combing through my self-editing checklist
  7. Breathing space for 5-6 hours (if possible)
  8. Final check of the piece and send (if possible)

→ Check out Rochi Zalani's blog, and follow her on Twitter @rochi_zalani.

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