Proofreading is the last step in the writing process, but a very important one. It’s the very last chance you have to ensure there are no errors in your work, and you are not confusing or distracting your reader from the message of your work.
What is proofreading?
Sometimes people use the terms editing and proofreading interchangeably, but there is a difference, and it’s good to understand it.
Let’s start with proofreading. It’s basically the final review of your work. It is the last chance you have to catch any inconsistencies in grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting, and presentation before publication or submission to another entity. It’s like a second, and final, set of eyes after you’ve done your best to produce an error-free manuscript. The proofreader then goes in there and finds all the things you missed.
A proofread is not about reviewing the structure, plot elements, character development, and so on. All that should have already been done, so the actual proofreading is quite a quick process and the turnaround is fast.
Editing is very different, and of course, there are multiple levels of editing. But editing basically addresses the writing at a much deeper level. It is looking at readability, clarity of presentation, and tone, and may also cover the syntax issues mentioned above. If it’s a developmental edit, then it looks at character development, plot construction, and setting elements.
Read more about the differences at our blog, Editing Vs. Proofreading.
The importance of proofreading
All documents require proofreading, even if you’re a confident writer. When you’re completely satisfied with your document, and perhaps you’ve already had some other editing done, and there is nothing further you feel you can do, this is when a proofread comes into its own.
It’s like giving the work a final polish. And you will be amazed at just how much a proofread still picks up.
We do advise you approach a professional proofreader, and advise you to check our further blog, Where to Find Help When Proofreading Your Writing and even consider our services. But if you’re determined to give it a go, here are some tips to get you started.
You may begin to notice that you make similar errors throughout the manuscript, and it can be then good to make passes through the document, correcting all those elements first.
1. Give it time
The first piece of advice we can give you about proofreading is not to rush the process. Do all you can on the structure and organization of your story or manuscript first. When there is absolutely nothing further you want to change, no characters to move around, scenes to spice up, or dialogue to play around with, put it down. Take a break, sleep on it and you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes.
When you’re ready, get started doing your proofreading using the tips below, preferably at a time of day when you’re alert and there are no distractions. When you’ve done all you can on that proofread, let it sit again, and have another go. If you find that you’re still doing actual editing during the proofreading, you need to stop the proofreading process, finish the editing, then come back to the proofread.
RELATED READ: Why our editing services are exactly what you need
2. Stop at every punctuation mark
Punctuation is often the bane of many writers and their editors or proofreaders. It can be hard to understand punctuation rules, use of commas, quote marks in dialogue, semicolons, em dashes, ellipses, and so on.
It can also be helpful to edit the manuscript for one thing at a time, such as the use of punctuation, even one particular type of punctuation because you want to be consistent all the way through.
Some common punctuation areas include wrong or missing prepositions, no subject/verb agreement, missing commas in a series or unnecessary commas, incorrect use of semicolons, incorrect use of articles, and sentence fragments.
These are good areas to familiarise yourself with. If in doubt, consult a resource or style guide to help you. And if you’re still not confident, then it’s definitely time to consult an expert.
Unnecessary shifts in tense can be a fairly common problem. Just remember, if you start the narrative in one style, it should remain that way throughout. There may be some minor variations, such as when a character speaks (present tense), or the story delves into something that has already happened (past perfect tense), otherwise, it should be consistent throughout.
4. Read it slowly, even backwards
Reading a manuscript slowly, aloud, or even backwards a sentence at a time can help you isolate problematic sentences, phrases, and syntax. Effectively, it’s a way of slowing you down so you’re more likely to pick up the errors.
5. Verify all spelling
The spelling of names can vary, for example, Stefanie and Stephanie, but it is important to be consistent. It’s also common that letters are missed, or there is a case error such as in a name like McDonald (Macdonald or Mcdonald might be other variations).
Brand and company names can often be misspelled or have a letter case error. For example, eBay might be written as ebay or Ebay. Other brands, like McDonald’s, have specific punctuation that is sometimes missed.
The title of books and articles should also be checked. Thinking you know the title, and actually checking that is the exact title, are two different things. So double-check everything.
All formatting should be double-checked in a separate pass through the document. Things like page numbers, header/footer materials, fonts, paragraph spacing, line spacing, and additional spaces between sentences are some of the common areas where there can be inconsistencies.
Most publishers, universities, academic centers or wherever you are sending your manuscript have style guides, or you can use a commonly accepted one. If in doubt, go for consistency in the formatting approach to your manuscript.
RELATED READ: Different Stages of Editing
7. Dates and times
Writers can spend months, even years, writing a manuscript. And they may, therefore, have referenced something that happened some time ago. When you read through, just make sure those references are now relevant to the current day.
8. Get help
Once you’ve gone through the document several times, used the spell checker on your computer, or even an online program to find errors, you’re ready to get further help. These programs are very useful, but never the same as a set of human eyes. A beta reader or trusted friend can be useful in picking up further errors, but a trained professional is even better.
Writing and editing your document is a long process. You invest a lot of time into the process, so it’s good not to baulk at the final hurdle or take your foot off the gas. A proofread is a vital component in polishing your document, and the final icing on the cake in terms of presentation.