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Ten Top Tips for Proofreading and Editing

January 12th, 2015

First-Draft-blogOkay, here we are, just twelve days in and it feels like the new year was months ago. How are your resolutions getting on? Mine are … just about alive. I did two workouts last week, though I lapsed when it came to the chocolate. Writing came off best – I managed some time on fiction every day, writing or editing (research doesn’t count).

I’ve been working on a short story which, some of you may recall, came out of missing a competition deadline back in November. It’s called ‘The Little People,’ and I’m now at the ‘whittling’ stage – shaving out words, shifting, checking and tidying things up so that, hopefully, it’ll become a publishable manuscript.

So, as much for myself as anyone else, here’s some handy hints to spruce up your scribblings:

1. Make a habit of proofreading and editing everything before anyone else sees it. Even if you’re going to pay a professional proofreader, go through the piece yourself first. Never forget, no matter who helps along the way, it’s YOUR work.

2. Make sure you understand the difference between proofreading and editing. Though we generally name them in that order, they’re actually done the other way round. Edit first to be sure the piece flows properly and is factually correct, then proofread to check for grammar and spellings.

3. And when it comes to grammar and spelling, make it your business to develop a good knowledge of both. The book ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves,’ by Lynne Truss is a great place to start, and there are numerous grammatical blogs out there – Grammarphobia; GrammarBlog; Grammarly … they’re all informative (and usually very funny). As for spelling – do crosswords and puzzles, play Scrabble, anything that forces you to get it right.

4. Particularly, when it comes to spelling, always look up any proper names, scientific, or technical terms you’re not familiar with to be sure you’re spelling them correctly

5. But before you start editing or proofing anything, step away. Just let it sit for a while, and the longer the work, the longer you can leave it. Give a novel a good six weeks; leave a blog post overnight.

6. Proofeading and editing should never, ever, be a rushed job. Make sure you’ve got enough time to do these things s … l … o … w … l … y.

7. When you’re editing, be concise. As George Orwell said: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Be particularly wary of word-pairs which sit nicely together on the page but actually say the same thing, as in: “With careless nonchalance, she threw the bag over her shoulder.” Here, either ‘careless’ or ‘nonchalance’ will do – not both.

8. Vary the structure and length of your sentences. Prose can become choppy and dull when short sentences are constantly made up of a main subject immediately followed by a verb. “I stopped running. I put on ten pounds,” reads much better as: “I put on ten pounds when I stopped running.”

9. Beware of using a ‘passive voice.’ This can easily be avoided by replacing ‘to be’ verbs using ‘is’ ‘was’ or ‘were,’ with strong, direct equivalents. For example, “The solo was played by Sally,” is punchier as: “Sally played the solo.” Also, collapse compound verbs into a single verb wherever possible – reduce ‘We are able to fly,’ to ‘We can fly.”

10. Proofreading and editing can be tedious, so break up your sessions with exercise, a play with the pets or kids, going for a walk, etc. Try to avoid reading or writing during these breaks though.

And there you have it – ten great tips for which I must thank the good people at The Centre For Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, and Melissa Donovan of Writing Forward. Both these websites are worth visiting for further information, should you need any. And if you want to ‘go deep’ into proofreading and editing, it may be worth taking a look at our very own Proofreading and Copy Editing course. But whichever way you go, just don’t forget to …

Keep on writing!

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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