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Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Effective Proofreading by Ally Broadfield

Once you finish writing a manuscript, what do you do? Edit until it shines, of course, but before you submit it to an agent or editor or self-publish it, don’t forget the final step: Proofreading. 

Consider the following paragraph: 

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. 

While this likely did not originate at Cambridge University and doesn’t hold true in all circumstances, it does illustrate the point that it’s easy to skim over spelling and typographical errors without noticing them, especially when you’re reading words you’ve painstakingly written and edited countless times. 

Whether you’re polishing your manuscript for a contest, preparing to submit to an agent or editor, or planning to self-publish, knowing how to effectively proofread your work is an essential skill. Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

Many people think proofreading and editing are the same thing, but in reality, they are very different. Think of editing as a cake, and proofreading as the icing on the cake. You spend a lot of time making that cake, greasing and flouring the pan, painstakingly measuring and mixing the ingredients, baking it for just the right amount of time, carefully removing it from the pan and cooling it on a wire rack. You’ve created a fabulous cake, but who’s going to want to eat it if you don’t put icing on the cake? Proofreading is the icing on the cake, the final stage of the editing process. It is limited to mechanical correctness and focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, typos, and syntax. 

Before you proofread, edit. You can’t frost the cake before it’s baked, can you? Your manuscript should be fully edited prior to proofreading. You’re probably thinking that by the time you finish editing, you will have caught all the proofreading errors. You probably did catch a few typos, but because you weren’t proofreading, you didn’t catch everything. Why? Because proofreading and editing require two different conceptual processes. Editing involves analyzing and reorganizing information into effectively expressed ideas. Proofreading requires separating the components of language from any meaning so the brain doesn’t allow you to see what you want to see rather than what is actually there on the page.  

Tips for More Effective Proofreading 

1.      Practice

Have you ever been in the middle of reading a blog or online news article when you notice a typo, a missing apostrophe, a sentence you would have written differently? Practicing your proofreading skills on other people’s work is a great way to improve your skills. It’s a fun, active way to become more conscious of the process. 

2.      Get Some Distance

If you have the time, let your finished work sit for a while. In his book On Writing, author Stephen King recommends a minimum of two to three weeks. Looking at it from a fresh perspective will make a huge difference in your ability to catch errors. 

3.      Get a Different Perspective

Printing out your work will often help you get the different perspective you need to catch errors, but if you’re working on a long manuscript, it’s a tremendous waste of resources. Oftentimes changing the font style, size, and/or color will help you get a different perspective. Also try reading it on your ereader, netbook, phone, or other device that will make it look different than it did on your computer.  Anything that changes the way it looks will help you see it from a new perspective.  

4.      Read It Out Loud

If I could only share one tip with you, this would be the one. Reading your work out loud forces you to focus on what’s actually written on the page instead of skimming over it like you do when you read in your head. It will help you detect errors in punctuation, syntax, rhythm, flow, and a myriad of other issues. Hearing your work read out loud without having the written words in front of you can also be helpful. Record yourself reading aloud, or try using the read aloud function on your computer or ereader.  

5.      Know What You Don’t Know

Look at proofreading as a learning experience. When you proofread, you’re not just looking for errors you recognize. You also need to learn to identify errors you didn’t know you were making. If something looks or sounds wrong, look it up. If you’re not sure about something, look it up.  

The tips in this article come from a lesson in my workshop, Tips and Techniques for More Effective Proofreading.
Ally Broadfield is a grammar geek and freelance proofreader. She writes young adult/middle grade fantasy and historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. You can find her here:  

I hope you will join my class on
Tips and Techniques for More Effective Proofreading
Hosted by
Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers
This 4 WEEK class starts January 14, 2013
For more information click HERE


Calisa Rhose said...

Great tips, Ally. Thanks for the workshop preview! Even as an editor I make the worst mistakes on my own work. That's when I call Beta readers.

christine warner said...

Wonderful advice. I always find it funny that I can read through my own work a zillion times and not catch something that someone else will. We certainly do start to skim over our own writing after going through it so many times.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Ally. I think sometimes I'm so close to my work I tend to go over them way too fast!

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Ally. I don't think many people can do a final edit on their own work. I know I can't.

Tara Kingston said...

Terrific tips. It's so hard to catch those little things in our own writing because we know what it's supposed to say :) I really value my critique partners-they're so good at catching those pesky errors.

Ally Broadfield said...

Thanks for stopping by, ladies. I hope the tips are helpful.

Callie said...

Great post, Ally. I know we all have a problem with reading our own work. I find your suggestion of reading it out loud very helpful.