Proofreading, an inch at a time


With self-publishing comes great responsibility. Whether you self-publish or go the way of an agent/publisher, you want to be sure your manuscript makes it to readers as cleanly as possible and makes sense from Chapter 1 through to The End.

Or perhaps you have an important corporate letter or a letter to the editor you want to send off? Maybe you are writing a school bulletin, family newsletter, or a web page for your new business?

I cannot define proofreading in finite terms – neither, it seems, can anyone else. I’ll stick my neck out and say “proofreading” is your garden variety punctuation, typos, and spelling.

Proofreading and copy editing are a challenge – it’s more than having a dictionary handy. It’s more than what you think you know.

Here’s a handy DIY – the first part in a 4-pack of proofreading and copy editing tip lists.

Part I – Doing Your Own Proofreading

Adjust your mind set from “writer” to “proofreader.” Forget that you are looking at your baby, your pet, your sweat-stained manuscript. Once you are ready to proofread and copy edit, it’s a whole ‘nother animal. It’s a project. You are looking for things that are wrong.

Spell check – Do not– DO NOT – depend on your computer’s spell checker.

Read out loud – Read the piece out loud. This will help you hear where there are stops and starts, what’s awkward. Take it a step further – read your MS or short story into a tape recorder, and then listen to it while looking at a printed copy. This can be cumbersome for a full-sized manuscript, so read on …

Print it – Sounds silly, but it makes a difference. You’ve been looking at the project on the screen for a year or two – you need a new perspective – you need to see it on paper. Red pen at the ready!

Dictionary and Style Guides – Use the dictionary and style guides like The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style, and desk references for grammar and punctuation – like Diane Hacker’s Rules for Writers.

First Reader – Do ask someone to look at your MS with a critical eye. My first reader Joanne Ingram  (a Master’s student at ASU School of Journalism) is brutal – she slices and dices like a Samurai.

Mom or BFF – Don’t ask mom or the BFF to proofread – unless mom was a H.S. English teacher or a proofreader for Merriam-Webster (my mom was!). Your peeps will probably tell you, “It’s wonderful!” or “Fabulous!” Not that you shouldn’t trust them, but you shouldn’t trust them with proofreading your manuscript.

Sounds like – Look at words like there and their, you’re and your, and its and it’s. If you know you have trouble with a certain word(s), search for that word throughout your manuscript or other important document. Labor-intensive – yes. But it works.

Take a break – Put the manuscript aside for a few weeks or a month or two. Then go back to it with fresh eyes. If you are in a hurry with a letter to the editor, try to leave it for at least a couple of hours.

This blog was originally posted on Chris Eboch’s blog Write Like a Pro!

Please stay tuned for Proofreading and Copy Editing, Parts II through IV.

Photo by Gwen Dubeau

What’s your proofreading bug-a-boo? What trips you up the most?


Filed under Editing & Proofreading

14 responses to “Proofreading, an inch at a time

  1. I think taking a break is crucial. That’s why I try to write blog posts, save them and hit publish later after a little distance and a second or third look.

  2. I think I get a little too anal about blog posts – I look at them a dozen times before I hit “publish!”

  3. I’m notorious for leaving words out and flip flopping them. Sometimes I catch the errors but often I can’t see them, no matter how many times I read the piece. I usually rely on several other sets of eyes to catch what I don’t.

    Great advice, Karen. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, Erika. As nit-picky as I am, I still miss a lot in my own work. My bug-a-boo is that pesky IT’S/ITS. I know the difference in my head, but the fingers type what they want!

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  8. Really good, solid advice. I thought I was the only one that proofread an inch at a time. Such a cumbersome, slow, laborious process. Can’t tell you how many times I went through it until word blind. Even then, i am sure I must have missed things…will keep going!

  9. It helps to look at your work with your “proofreader” hat on instead of your “writer” hat. Thank you for your comment, Niamh!

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