Proofreading is an important topic these days, particularly for indie authors. Just this week we caught sight of a conversation on Quora that started with the thread: “What does it say about you if you are terrible at proofreading?” What we’ll say is that self-proofreading is very challenging, but doable. So, we thought we’d provide some tips.
Once you’ve edited your text and you’re 100 percent confident as to your content and narrative, it’s time to proofread. Self-proofreading isn’t optimal. Look at it this way: self-proofreaders inevitably see what they want to see. In other words, if you’re not serious about finding errors and typos, then you’re probably not up for the task—there’s that and let’s face it, if you don’t know something is a mistake, then a different set of eyes can make all the difference. That said, while it’s not ideal, it can be done. Editing expert Ellie Maas Davis is back today to give some tips on self-proofreading.
First things first, give yourself a wide berth and don’t be rushed. Depending on your book’s word count (really large manuscripts may demand a different approach), it’s better to knock out a proofread in fewer sittings than sporadically or piecemeal. If your manuscript is under or near 70,000 words, clear a three-day weekend and get to work. Start with spellcheck. Once you’ve exhausted the helpfulness of your word processor’s spelling and grammar function, start the self-proofreading process by tackling one issue at a time—concentrate on sentence structure, then paragraph structure, word choice, spelling, and then punctuation.
As a checklist, here’s what I would do:
1. Proofread one sentence at a time.
2. Use your “find and replace” tool to your advantage—be careful with this, but once you identify an error ensure you didn’t make the error repeatedly. Use “find and replace” to correct it if you have.
3. Read your text aloud—this is especially helpful in discovering missing words, things you inadvertently or incorrectly spelled phonetically, dangling modifiers, and faulty verb endings; it’s also useful to ensure a novel’s dialogue is believable.
4. Print the entire work, either on your home printer or by publishing a private-access book on Lulu. Staring at the same words over and over again on your screen, you start to see what you want to see—perfection. Printing or changing the font fakes a fresh set of eyes, and you’ll be more prone to catch mistakes you’ve skimmed over previously.
5. As a final stopgap effort, read your text backward—this helps you focus on individual words rather than whole sentences.
For extra help with writing tips, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a fantastic resource.
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