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Effective Proofreading

January 27th, 2014

You may think it’s not that important for your work to be accurate – we’re talking spelling, grammar and punctuation – especially in these days of self-publishing, but it really is. Why? Because, if you’re producing articles, it gives your writing a certain gravitas that helps others trust in what you are saying. And, if you’re writing fiction, it makes your story flow so much better so that the reader can really get into it.

Honestly, as an editor there’s nothing worse than trying to decipher what you think a writer might be saying because the sentence you are reading lacks the correct punctuation, or they’ve used ‘their’ instead of ‘there’. I will allow for some error because we all make mistakes – a slip of the finger can result in a misspelling for even the best writers. But if it becomes too littered with errors I’ll just dismiss it, simply because it’ll take me too long to correct it before publishing.

So, do what the best writers do to avoid this situation by proofreading your work thoroughly. Here are Ten Top Tips to get you started:

1. Leave your proofreading until you are sure you’ve finished. It should be the very last job you complete before contemplating sending your work out to publishers or self-publishing. There’s no point spending time proofreading a piece of work that you know you’ll need to re-draft.

2. Don’t do it right away. Put your work to one side for a few days. You need to proofread it with fresh eyes. If you do it too soon, you are sure to miss some errors. This is because you are so familiar with the writing and, crucially, what you think it should say, that your brain adds in what’s missing, whether that’s words, commas or correct spellings.

3. Don’t worry about content at this time. Proofreading is not about analysing the content of the writing, so don’t read in the usual way. Instead, take every line by itself and check that it’s correct. Some people find working backwards helps, as you’ll be more focused on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

4. Check anything you are not sure about. If you’re not sure whether you’ve spelt something right or not, check. It’s better to spend a little time checking than get it wrong.

5. Remove distractions. It’s best to proofread in peace and quiet, so you can really concentrate on the text. I also find reading aloud makes it easier to spot mistakes.

6. Make notes as you go. If you see something that needs attention as you’re working your way through the text, make a note of it and move on so you try not to lose your flow. If you keep the notes from your proofreading you’ll soon start to notice if there are mistakes you make on a regular basis and take steps to address them.

7. If you do make any changes, make sure you go back and proofread the whole sentence again to make sure it’s correct. Many errors occur because a writer changes one word but forgets to alter the others to match.

8. When you have lots of facts, quotes, dates, references or anything else that doesn’t fit in with the normal text, it’s best to check them separately.

9. You can do several passes checking for different errors if you find that easier. So you could start off by checking for spelling errors, then go back and check for punctuation and so on.

10. Checking the formatting should be the last job on the proofreading checklist. Make sure each page matches the format you have been asked for. It’s best to leave this to the end because the positioning of the text could change if you make any alterations.

Remember proofreading could, literally, mean the difference between being published and being rejected so do it properly!

And, if you need any further help with proofreading your own work or you fancy becoming a proofreader for a bit of extra income, keep your eye out for our next Course of the Week email – it’ll have a link to get £25 off your course materials.

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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