Proofreading Four Pack – Part I

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?

Here’s a handy DIY – the first part in a four 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. You can also utilize the “Read Aloud” feature of Word to read it to you. It’s a little mechanical, but you might discover a few problems. 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 or more – 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 – Ask someone to look at your MS with a critical eye. My go-to first reader is Shawn MacKenzie. 

Mom or BFF – Don’t ask mom or the BFF to proofread – unless mom was 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 theiryou’re and your, and its and it’s. Also consider trip-up words like rain, rein, and reign, bear and bare, ate and eight, altar and alter. When I’m in a hurry, I often use one wrong word for what would be the right word. Search for your trouble words throughout your manuscript or other important document. 

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.

Please stay tuned for more Proofreading Four Pack, Parts II through IV.

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


Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Personal Articles, Quick Editing Tips

6 responses to “Proofreading Four Pack – Part I

  1. Your mention of a corporate letter brings up one of my favorite stories.

    I had taken over leadership of a non-profit during a time of great re-organization of that agency. As a result, I did not receive the training that I should have so when the time came for annual reports, I submitted none. My lack of paperwork attracted the attention of the Great Chewer-Outer in charge of reports and I was the recipient of her most officious letter. It was a letter of incomplete sentences, misspellings, and a couple of words which did not exist in any English dictionary. My reaction was anger mixed with hilarity.
    I let her letter sit for a couple of days and then wrote an excruciatingly correct response. My last sentence quoted her not-so-veiled threat to remove me from this volunteer position, including one of the non-existent words she had used. I sent off my letter and waited for the shoe to drop.

    I never heard from her again but about a week later was talking to someone in that office. When we had finished our conversation, she lowered her voice and asked if she could be very unprofessional for a moment. I said “sure”. “I want to thank you on behalf of everyone in this office for the letter you sent. Her secretary copied it and it has made the rounds. Morale here has been horrible ever since re-organization but your letter made our day.”

  2. These are all great tips. Thanks. I often get desert and dessert wrong.

  3. Annette Petrick

    Looking forward to Part II. Be sure to have mom check it out.

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