5 Tips for Proofreading
“The most effective way to spot typos is to publish. Once it goes to print, all of the typos jump right off the page. It’s like magic.” – Steve Davis, Managing Editor (quoted by permission)
To write is not enough. We must write well. If errors abound in our article or manuscript, our readers may easily become distracted, and our message lost.
We all chuckle at Steve’s humorous quote. We know he’s right. The most effective way to spot typos is to publish. Unfortunately that is not when we want to discover them!
What we really need is a second set of eyes, preferably those of a professional editor. The sad reality for the author trying to break into print through self publishing is that they simply do not have it in their budget to pay for proofreading services. Self proofreading becomes a must, rather than the preferred first step in the process.
Do you find yourself in this predicament? Maybe you are a writer and even a decent proofreader. You notice everyone else’s mistakes, but you have seen how your own errors camouflage themselves into the background of what your mind knows is on the written page. You wrote it! You know what you wrote! Yet the errors become invisible. You see the flaws in being your own proofreader and you wonder how to overcome the odds.
Overcome the odds with the following 5 tips for proofreading:
1) Take full advantage of your word processor’s capabilities!
Spell checkers will only pick up obvious misspellings—and definitely will not catch alternate spellings—but it will speed up the process.
b) Grammar Checker:
Grammar checkers are not infallible. They may try to correct sentences that are acceptable in the style which you are writing in. Don’t blindly accept corrections. Research it! Be a continual learner!
c) Find & Replace Function:
Use the Find & Replace function in conjunction with a list of your common errors. Search for these errors!
2) Leave a passage of time between the writing and the proofing.
Leave time for the material to become fresh once more to your eyes and ears before proofreading.
3) Read aloud!
Read not only the words, but state aloud the punctuation as well. Read mechanically, syllable by syllable, as you study individual words and letters. If it works for you, read through the text backwards. Read each line three times before correcting, reading ahead as needed for understanding and context.
4) Use a multi-pronged approach, reading through multiple times with a different focus each time!
a) Read through for understanding and context.
Though this may fall more to the arena of editing, it is still an excellent process for catching words placed out of order and words that have been added or omitted in your re-writing process.
b) Read through for grammar.
If you don’t already own one, it is essential that you own either The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (for fiction), or The Associated Press Stylebook (for non-fiction). Kathy Ide’s Publishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar and Spelling is an excellent resource that I highly recommend.
c) Read through for spelling.
Even if you are an excellent speller, have a dictionary on hand!
d) Read through for punctuation.
e) Read through for style.
Check the consistency of your titles, headers, font-type and size, paragraph indentations, and page numbering.
Obviously, you will find spelling errors as you check for grammar or style, and grammar errors may jump out at you while you are focusing on spelling. Correct all errors as you see them, but mentally zone in on one area at a time.
5) Get it into print!
Remember the opening quote? If you are self publishing, after you are convinced your manuscript has reached perfection, save it, upload it, and order a proof copy. You will be in awe at the magic that occurs. Errors will suddenly slip out of their camouflaged coverings, mischievous grins on their faces as they flaunt how well they have hid from you.
Congratulations! You have reached the final frontier of your proofreading. Take the proof copy and go back through the proofreading processes—as many times as necessary!
And yes, dream of the day when you have a budget line for proofreading!