Proofreading your own work is one of the most demanding tasks required as you ready your manuscript to meet the world. Why? Because the brain sees what it thinks is there.
Count the number of errors in the excerpt above. Most people see the first four immediately, the fifth a little later, and the sixth takes a lot longer. Now read it again, using a piece of paper to block out everything below the line you’re reading. Read it aloud slowly, line by line. The mistakes pop out almost immediately.
Try the tips below. Each tip is an arrow in your quiver. Unfortunately, the silver arrow that does it all has not yet been discovered.
- Run the quick-fix approaches: spelling and grammar check. Bear in mind that neither of them are infallible.
- Make sure you’ve fixed all the editorial issues before you begin proofreading. You don’t want to go through this more than once.
- Take a break of at least a couple of days before beginning. Step back from the story and concentrate on words and punctuation.
- Work with a printed copy of the manuscript. You’ve seen it so many times on the screen, seeing it on paper is a new experience.
- Masking all but the line you are reading, read it aloud slowly and distinctly. Setting your computer to read it is often more helpful. Follow the computer voice with your finger, word by word. The computer will pronounce what you wrote, not what you meant, catching things like letter reversals. Your follow along on paper will catch the “sound alikes.”
- Almost all experts agree you should do this from front to back, and again from back to front. (Tedious, I know.)
- One final step I do is go back to the computer and view the manuscript reduced in size so you see at least a dozen pages at once on your screen. It should be too small to read. Scan for dense pages—those with little or no white space. Enlarge that page and see if you can break up large paragraphs into two or more smaller ones.
- Make sure your chapter headings are sequential. It’s amazing how often I see manuscripts with a skipped chapter number or two chapters with the same number.
- If at all possible, ask someone else to read it. Maybe you can find a writing friend willing to be a proofing partner.
Cross your fingers and release your baby. No matter how careful you are, someone is bound to find a few more things that can be improved. Learn from every experience.
Do you have any proofreading tips that work for you? Please share with your fellow writers.
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