Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Don’t edit or proofread right away. Let it rest and then go back or so the advice says. Well, that doesn't work for me. I'm one of those writers who remembers exactly what it was supposed to say even after months, and that's how I read my manuscript.

The other main advice you receive if you Google proofreading is to get a buddy. Two sets of eyes are better than one, and three sets are better than two. This is great advice, but it is harder than it seems. I don't really know any other novel writers. I do belong to several critique groups, but they are made up of short story writers who are not interested in my novel. I kept searching until I found another person to exchange novel manuscripts with.

Proofreading is not an innate ability; it is an acquired skill. The following exercises will help you master it, or will impress you with how challenging it is.

Hints for Successful Proofreading:
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of doubt. If there are errors you know you tend to make, double check for those.
  • Read very slowly. If possible, read aloud. Read one word at a time.
  • Read what is actually on the page, not what you think is there. (This is the most difficult sub-skill to acquire, particularly if you wrote what you are reading).
  • Proofread more than once. If possible, work with someone else.

Most errors in written work are made subconsciously. There are two sources of subconscious error:
  1. Faulty information from the kinesthetic memory. If you have always misspelled a word like "accommodate," you will unthinkingly misspell it again.
  2. A split second of inattention. The mind works far faster than the pen or keyboard.

Read Your Work Aloud
Any time your text is awkward or confusing, or any time you have to pause or re-read your text, revise this section. If it is at all awkward for you, you can bet it will be awkward for your reader. Reading your text aloud will also help you catch errors including missing words and incorrect grammar that you may have missed.

Examine Your Paragraphs
Examine the overall construction of your paragraphs, looking specifically at length, supporting sentence(s), and topic sentence. Individual paragraphs that are significantly lacking length or sufficient supporting information, as well as those missing a topic sentence, may be a sign of a premature or under-developed thought.

When to Seek a Professional
Although it is always necessary to proof your own work for basic mistakes, even the best writers can benefit from hiring a professional proofreader. If you already know you have difficulty finding the errors in your own work, it is better to hand the job over to someone who can make your material the best it can be.



Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I am one of those writers who lets work sit for a while before going over it again. Sometimes, a little time away surprises me when I go back to read it.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great to leave your proofreading til later if you can but that's not always easy when you're doing work like blogging or daily articles that require you to submit things almost immediately upon writing them. I find that the read-aloud trick works best in those situations because I'm forced to slow down and pay attention to what it is I just put down on paper.

What do you guys do to edit the blog as you write it?

Annette said...

I've found that the best way to proof my blog content--especially if I'm creating it in the blog post form is to copy and paste the content into a Word doc, run spellcheck and a quick "speech" function on it. It takes a little extra time, but it saves embarrassing mistakes. Although, sometimes, I skip those steps and I invariably find that I've made errors once the post goes live.

It's just a fact: it's difficult to proof your own work. Your mind often sees what "should" be there and what you "meant" to write, but sometimes that's not what ends up on the page.

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