Proofreading: The Final Step

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
We’ve all had this experience.  You’ve just posted a blog or e-mailed a manuscript to your editor and then you look down.  Staring back up at you, waving merrily, is a typo, a punctuation error or a spelling mistake. 

How is it that you can proof your work and still miss something so obvious?  Part of the problem is familiarity.  By the time you’ve been through a manuscript five or six times, your skim rather than read closely.  You need to shake things up a bit so that you can spot errors before they go out into the publishing world. 

Follow these 5 tips for error free copy.
  1. Note all alerts. If you use Word, you may have developed the same bad habit that I have.  I often ignore the red and green underlines that indicate a possible error, because I’m often writing things with foreign words or names that set off the alerts.  These alerts are your first line of defense for typos and grammar mistakes.  Take a look at each one because sometimes the program does find a mistake.
  2. Change your font.  Book designers know that readers can skim some fonts, including Courier and Times Roman, without having to consciously think about what they are reading.  You don’t want to skim when you are proofing.  Temporarily change your font to something that takes a conscious effort to read.  I often use Papyrus or Bradley Hand because they take more effort but aren’t too decorative. 
  3. Change the size of your font.  You may not have old eyes but larger fonts are easier to read.  That’s why beginning readers are printed in larger font.  Enlarge your font to 18 or 20 point for easy viewing. 
  4. Print it out.  If you write on screen like I do, printing your work out will also make it look different.  For whatever reason, I can skim over a mistake 5 or 6 times on screen (in spite of the red underline) but spot it immediately on a print out.
  5. Read your work out loud.  When you read out loud, it is slower than reading to yourself.  Again, you can’t skim.  This is my last attempt to catch errors. 

Error free text impresses editors and readers. While no one is perfect, it pays to make an effort to weed out as many errors as possible.  What tricks do you use?


Sue teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins in October; places in the class are open.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I read my work aloud. That works for me. However, I had never thought of changing the font. That's something I'll do next time in the revision/editing process.

And you're right about #1. We get used to some of those alerts and therefore ignore all of them.

Thanks for the post.

Sioux Roslawski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.E. Malone said...

I've always printed my work as a final step. but can also see the merit in using a larger font. I'll have to try that next time, too.

Margo Dill said...

Great ideas. Now how about text messages? Goodness I always have a ton of typos in those.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Facebook messages are my social media issue. How can I not see those mistakes until I hit enter?

Proofing is tough but I've noticed that periodically switching what method I use seems to help. Hope some of these techniques help you as well.


Renee Roberson said...

I love the idea of changing font size and type! I think that would really help me not skim over the words like I usually do when I'm proofreading.

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