I trust that you have taken some notes on what you would like to do to get on with your publishing journey and getting visible as a writer. This is the best moment to make good use of your time and start revising and editing your work. I have some tips to help you with proofreading your work to get rid of those embarrassing errors.
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is not only smart – it can make or break your chances of someone taking your work seriously, maybe for that book publishing contract, pro bono review, next publishing step or discounted editing quote.
8 Proofreading tips to help perfect your manuscript
1. Give it time
I have a poet friend who has been working on his manuscript after some time of leaving it idle. Initially, he thought his manuscript was ready and waiting to be published until he decided to do one last proofreading step, only to be shocked at the amount of errors and mistakes that he needed to fix. Some of his poems developed new meaning to him, he had to rewrite some and polish his manuscript into the masterpiece anthology that he aims to produce.
One important proofreading tip is to give it time. It is important to always sleep on something after you have written it and proofread later. The brain functions differently while writing from how it works in the proofreading process. I have always found it useful to proofread my work after a power nap or some distraction from my computer. This gives me a fresh perspective and clearer eyes. For some, proofreading first thing in the morning works best. Before you click send or hit submit, carefully run over your text and cross those ts and dot the is one last time.
Taking time between writing and proofreading allows the brain to switch gears. Not only will you be able to proofread better – this gives you the opportunity to proofread while your brain is at its optimal performance. If you do not have much time, at least give yourself a few moments between writing and proofreading. You can navigate between projects. That will give your brain the time to reset and prepare for the different processes editing requires.
2. Know yourself
Many of us write from speech hence confuse certain words from the way we speak. These could be “your” and “you’re”. Some struggle with “am I” and “I’m”. Some of the errors also depend on our origin. I have a Nigerian friend who throws pidgin language in his writing, not as a writing style but as genuine errors; over time, he has learnt to watch for those mistakes when proofreading.
It is important to keep your common error patterns on a list that is easily visible whenever you sit down to write or proofread. Knowing your tendencies is a good way to ensure accurate proofreading. Being aware of the type of mistakes that you often make is the first step to becoming a better writer (and proof-reader).
3. Read out loud
Having been inclined to quiet spaces, I never believed this technique worked until I tried it out. If you do not want to sound awkward to the people around you, try turning on the stereo. If you cannot exactly read out aloud, maybe because you are sharing an office, try opening your lips as you read, it produces a different sound and feeling to the text that helps you pick and fix errors that you might otherwise miss when only reading it in your heart. If a sentence does not sound right, when read out aloud, you will notice it immediately.
Reading out loudly helps with punctuation, such as knowing where punctuation should go by hearing the pauses that happen. It also helps you catch run-on sentences that leave you out of breath after reading. Reading aloud also helps you find holes in your logic or missing information that needs to be included, along with awkward word placement or repetition.
4. Find a second pair of eyes
After focusing intently on writing something, your brain will often fill in words that are not on the written page as you read, causing you to miss the word entirely. This happens because you are familiar with your thoughts and what you need to say. Having another person read over your writing is the best way to catch this kind of mistake.
Even the most seasoned writers know to have someone else look over their work before it is published. Sometimes, you can write a phrase or word so often that it seems correct, even though it is not. An example is one entrepreneurship expert that I know. They have beautiful motivational phrases that sound perfect in speech but never in writing. This is why it is always important to implore the habit of finding a second pair of eyes to look over your writing.
It is not just about getting a separate set of eyes, this other reader should be a professional editor, especially if your manuscript is extremely important and you are publishing for profit. If you are writing for fun and cannot afford to hire a professional editor, at least consider having someone that you trust to help you catch some errors for you to look over your text. This could be a friend, relative, classmate, professional acquaintance or a social media friend. They say that no one roots for you like the unknown social media friend that you have never met in person. If you trust them with your manuscript, give them a chance to help you.
5. Print it out
We are in a paperless age but printing page proofs is an important step in publishing. After you have written something, if you have access to a printer, go ahead and print it out. Proofreading your work after printing out a hard copy allows you to make corrections directly on the paper for a visual understanding of your error tendencies. It gives you that ‘haaaa’ moment, as you clearly see your errors in actual writing.
Reading on a digital screen is different from a printed page. Often, the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.
My former boss would always emphasise printing out page proofs and marking them up but my other work colleagues, especially from the IT department thought that was stupid, but was it? This may also seem stupid to you right now, but it will only make sense when you try it.
Viewing distances and angles used for proofreading are also different from those commonly used for other reading or writing tasks. As a result, the eye focusing and eye movement requirements for digital screen viewing can place additional demands on the visual system.
Reading from screen has all its advantages while reading from a printed page also has its own disadvantages such as the additional task of then inputting the changes back onto the screen, but it is an effective proofreading technique that should be used for better results. Besides, it also gives your eyes a rest after staring at a screen.
Printing page proofs also allows you to use the ruler technique – place a ruler under each line as you read it. This will give your eyes a manageable amount of text to read and blinkers your eye from running across the page. Remember back in primary school when you were asked to read for the class and you would find yourself being stopped by your classmates, telling you that you are now reading in the wrong place. That is not just a growing up mistake, avid readers can still attest to this when they hop around a page and have to go back to the actual paragraph of their book.
6. Design Proofs
If you are successful with skipping printed page proofs, always make sure you are thorough when you proofread design proofs. The same logic with a printed copy also works. A designed page has the ability to bring out errors clearly. Your work has a new look and layout – the best possible final outcome, hence proofreading at that stage resurfaces certain errors that may have slipped through the other editing stages.
I have argued several times with my book designer when I send in a huge list of silly proofreading errors which may include sentence restructuring, word replacements, additional commas and m dashes or exclamation marks in place of full stops. “But you told me that your text was perfect,” she often says.
It is boring for the designer to input new text changes but it is also a necessary step for the Editor to ensure none of those errors slip through to print. Adobe has come up with a working platform that can allow both the Editors and designers to share files in order not to frustrate each other but for the QuarkXPress designers, the relationship will always be sour but necessary.
Again, if you can, print the design proofs.
7. Avoid distractions
Distractions will ruin your proofreading session. If you have a child running around or a conversation between co-workers going on behind you, it is almost impossible to concentrate. Find a quiet room without any access to the Internet, e-mail and WhatsApp, or basically Social Media. Checking messages all the time pulls you out of the proofreading moment and then it takes time to rebuild your focus. You may spend an entire hour looking at the same paragraph. This is the reason I basically prefer to work late at night, when everyone else is asleep, but in this global village, that also does not help much as some e-mails pop in during that time, hence the best option is to switch off all communication and focus.
8. Be consistent in your changes
Here is the last but most important step. The whole objective of proofreading is to ensure consistency in your manuscript, so you have to be consistent with making your changes. Have your style guide in hand and consistently refer to it. During editing, sometimes writers make changes to some parts of a document but not all. For instance, you may replace z with s for the first 30 pages and then leave the z for the rest of the document. Be consistent in the changes that you make – if you change the style of something on page 5, make sure you change the style of a similar thing on page 102.
Developing useful proofreading habits helps ensure that any content that you submit, both professionally and personally, leaves the best impression. It will help save you from embarrassing errors. Practice them and you will find that you make fewer errors the more you use them.
Best of wishes in your writing project. Make sure you develop effective proofreading habits to help you produce the best work.
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