When you need to begin proofreading your work, it can be an overwhelming and daunting task. You don’t know what to look for or where to start.
However, if you take advantage of the resources available to you and also know a few basic editing rules to keep as a focus, you will have no problem doing the first round of proofreading yourself.
Doing so makes your book as polished and professional as possible. Then, you can seek a final round of proofreading by a professional to ensure that no errors or omissions remain.
Often, the best storytellers aren’t the individuals who have the grammar and punctuation knowledge that an editor possesses. And that’s okay! That’s why there are authors, and there are editors.
Proofreading Your Work
One of the first things to do when correcting your work is to read it aloud, if possible. Often, your ears will catch errors that your eyes have missed. Your ear can hear when a subject and verb do not agree. Your ear can hear when a sentence is too long without the pause a comma or semicolon can provide. Your ear can also detect changes in tone, voice, and style that were unintentional. It can be surprising the effect that hearing your work can have, but it is the same as having an entire additional reader!
When proofreading your work, pay close attention to the words you have used. One mistake often undetected until proofreading is commonly confused words. For example:
- Use “affect” when you need a verb and “effect” when you need a noun
- Use “its” to show possession, but “it’s” when you are combining “it” and “is”
- Use “then” when showing a progression in time and “than” when making a comparison
- Use “excess” (a noun or adjective) when indicating an abundance, but use “access” (both a noun and a transitive verb) when talking about gaining entrance
This list is just a sample of the many overlooked words and phrases out there. Carefully examining your pages, down to the paragraphs, sentences, and even word-level, can uncover many minor errors you had missed in your original revisions.
Once you’ve completed the best and closest proofreading job you can, don’t let the revisions stop there! Take advantage of the professional services available to you. Professional editors can give your book the final polish it needs.
Proofreading – the next round
Proofreading your work is a difficult task, even for experienced writers. Thus, we recommend that you approach this in multiple steps.
Unless you are paying keen attention, you can easily overlook even the most obvious mistake. What’s worse, the more times you read your piece over, the more likely you are to miss the errors.
When we read, we don’t pay attention to every little detail. Our eyes skim across the words quickly, and our brains just fill in anything that doesn’t seem quite right. Thus, proofreading is best completed by someone who is not the author of the piece; it needs fresh eyes.
When you are familiar with a piece of writing, you know what you expect to see and your brain will subconsciously repair any mistakes.
Take a break from proofreading your work
When correcting your work, first put it aside for some time and don’t look at it – at least for a few days. Waiting allows you to forget what you wrote and look at it anew.
When reviewing your writing, read it slowly. Be careful and deliberate. As you read each sentence, try to imagine someone else reading those same words. Is it ambiguous? Perhaps someone could interpret it differently than you meant it. Is that comma where you wanted it, and does that verb fit? Misplaced punctuation can change the meaning entirely, while a mismatched verb can send readers stumbling over your words in confusion.
Proofread your work and read aloud
One thing that can help the self-editing process is to read the work out loud. Often, when reading a manuscript aloud, the ears will catch errors that the eyes will miss. This type of proofreading is even more useful if there is a second listener along for the journey.
When you are forced to read the writing out loud, you can notice errors in punctuation more quickly because of the pause a comma, period, or semicolon brings. Conversely, you’ll see when a break is needed if the punctuation is absent.
Knowing what the correct punctuation mark is, however, is sometimes a more tricky problem to solve!
Try reading your work out loud to see mistakes you might otherwise have missed, and never rely on spell-check to catch them. Spell-check misses all the wrong words that are spelled right. (For example, homonyms are words that sound the same, but they are spelled differently).
These wrong words can change the meaning of your text; they can even be quite embarrassing. Did you mean to send your boss a fight plan? Or should that have been a flight plan?
Use fresh eyes when proofreading
Frequently, the kinds of errors missed during an author’s proofreading of his or her own work are the straightforward and obvious ones. Perhaps the spell-check changed your misspelled “definitly” to “defiantly” rather than “definitely.” Maybe a minor character’s name is spelled with an “ey” during most of the novel, but then suddenly, you began using just a “y” and didn’t even realize.
These are the types of errors that a fresh set of eyes can pick up. These are the kinds of mistakes that a professional editor is trained to look for and can quickly detect and correct.
Grammar errors are even harder to spot, especially when they arise from your personal speech patterns. For example, some people say they “should of” done something, when they mean they “should have” done something (or in fiction dialogue or conversational writing, “should’ve”).
These types of mistakes occur because we don’t articulate words clearly when we speak. Often people aren’t even aware they are making grammar mistakes.
If your work is ready for publishing, send your writing to an experienced editor or professional for a careful line-by-line review before you send it out to the public. Your editor might be your last defense against an awkward or embarrassing mistake.
The final proofread
Once you’ve written your manuscript, whether it’s a novel, a collection of poetry, or a researched work of academic scholarship, you’ve undoubtedly been through numerous rewrites and revisions. It seems impossible—after so many reviews and so many times through a document—that there could be anything you might have missed.
But a final proofread is an essential aspect of the writing and publishing process.
At times, however, the original author is the absolute last person who needs to be doing the proofreading. After all, you’ve been through your writing from the very beginning. By the final draft, you know exactly what you were trying to say and feel comfortable that you’ve said it. It makes complete sense, then, that your eyes can read what should be on the page, rather than what is on the page.
The inability to see errors applies in particular to a manuscript that has seen numerous revisions because you’ve read it so many times. After a point, you begin reading it with your mind, rather than your eyes.
While a final review by the author is essential, a review by a professional editor can add the needed touches to avoid any simple errors. After all, the best way for your writing to appear professional is to prevent those typographical mistakes that your “authorial” eyes can glance right over. The second set of eyes provides the needed finishing touches, so why not make sure that second set of eyes is a professional?