what is proofreading

Amazing, you’ve written something you’re proud of!

That’s the hardest bit done. Oof.

But if you think the work is completely over, I have some news – drafting is only stage one. Yep, that’s right.

Next comes the editing, and only when all developmental and line edits have been made are you ready to hire a proofreader.

But what is proofreading? Let’s unpack everything you ought to know!

What Is Proofreading?

“Hey, I thought proofreading was basically editing!”

You’re not alone. Proofreading and editing can get easily mixed up because they are similar in nature, yet the specifics are where they truly differ.

To put it briefly, editing goes in depth. Editors often look at your overall story arch or the consistency of the arguments you present, and they help you work on everything from sentences to chapters and the narrative structure.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is the stage where a final manuscript – after all edits have been suggested and incorporated – gets a nice polish.

When people talk about proofreading, they most commonly think of catching typos. But there’s actually so much more to it!

Proofreaders do all kinds of things, including:

  • Fixing the dreaded typos (for instance, quite a lot of writers are so submerged in the story that they sometimes forget to add a full stop at the end of sentences)
  • Pointing out grammar errors or spelling mistakes (such as verb tenses, apostrophe rules, and the grammatical flow of sentences)
  • Making sure all punctuation is correct (using commas correctly is less common than you’d think)
  • Language inconsistencies (e.g., sudden profanities when the book’s tone isn’t suited to them)
  • Capitalization mistakes
  • Location-specific errors (US vs UK English is an example of this)
  • Formatting (headings, subheadings, font, and so on)
  • Consistency (making sure the text flows well and is consistent in tone and formatting throughout)

Of course, all this means that proofreaders must be excellent at paying attention to detail, especially because proofreading work is often delivered on a quicker turnaround than editing.

The truth is, proofreading is a highly valuable skill – and not everyone is great at it, which is why many writers hire proofreaders to help their work reach the highest standard it can be.

Naturally, that’s not always an option – and that’s okay! If your language skills are at a very high level, there’s no reason why you couldn’t try becoming your own proofreader.

All you have to do is adhere to some basic rules and read up on our best tips.

How to Proofread Effectively: Steps and Tips

The number one challenge all writers face is the difficulty to view your text objectively. We can get so wrapped up in the story we love so much that it becomes hard to keep a certain distance.

But that’s what putting on your proofreading glasses inherently entails. When you’re proofreading, there’s no place for “I’ll do that later” or “it’s kind of okay, so I’ll leave it in,” not to mention “I’m not sure about this but I guess I’ll just roll with it.”

Proofreading is strict. It is about seeing a text as an actual product and polishing it to perfection. Lack of subjectivity is a big plus here, which is why our first tip is to…

#1 Take a break from your text before you start proofreading

In fact, you should take a step back from the text during each stage. Is draft one finished? Alright, lock it in a drawer for a month. Then do draft two.

Are you about to edit? Check to see if you’ve let it simmer for long enough. If the text doesn’t feel at least a little bit new, it probably needs to cook a bit more.

The same goes for proofreading. You need a fresh pair of eyes to effectively assess what it is you’re working with, so always give it some time before you dive back into the manuscript.

#2 Print your manuscript & go over it with a pen

Trust me when I say that seeing your text printed out gives you a brand new perspective on things. Suddenly, you see errors or clunky phrases you wouldn’t have noticed before, and all the gaps in the story are more visible than ever.

Thus the power of paper.

If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly option, change the software you’re writing in (personally, it really helps me to switch from Microsoft Word to Scrivener or the other way around) or the font.

#3 Use all the grammar tools at your disposal

Getting some help is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, using tools like Grammarly or Hemingway App will help you tune out details you might not have been aware of and teach you some great grammar rules along the way.

Not to mention these programs will always keep you on your toes because they can and do get it wrong, so it ultimately depends on your own common sense to know what the right decision is. It’s a bit like receiving counsel from a group of advisors before reaching a final verdict.

If in doubt, consult dictionaries or Google. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.

RELATED READ: Editing vs Proofreading

#4 Read the text out loud

Especially dialogues. Some sentences sound amazing in your head until you actually let them escape into the real world, making you cringe as your ears take them in fully.

If your novel were adapted as a movie, could the actors say what your characters say and make it sound credible?

Yes, dialogues in novels do sometimes sound slightly different than in the real world. But they should always stay within reach of reality.

Reading your text out loud in the proofreading stage is where you really get to see if your language works on multiple levels or not.


Now that you know what proofreading is, go ahead and polish your manuscript until it glistens!

And if you think your novel would reach its full potential with the help of a dedicated proofreader, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the FirstEditing team.

RELATED READ: How to Self-Edit Faster and More Efficiently

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