Yet we all know those people. They seem like they can spot a transposed i and e from a football field away. Well, most of us are not those people, so we have to work just a bit harder to do a great job proofreading.
When proofreading your manuscript (or anything), here are a few tips to help you improve the quality of your proofing:
Clear the clutter. The desk of a writer tells the tale. Unfortunately, that cluttered workspace isn’t the best place to proof. Move to an area with a clear surface, away from the phone and other distractions. If you are proofing on the computer, TURN OFF notifications. And please, print a copy to review.
Don’t trust Spellcheck. Spellcheck is a frenemy. It can help with some mistakes, but when combined with autocorrect can totally Mean Girl you. Turn off autocorrect. It means typing mistakes, but they are easier to spot than a properly spelled word that does not belong. [Shudder.] And as far as Spellcheck, you’ve probably seen the memes going around with words that are often misspelled (i.e. peek/peak, insure/ensure, complement/compliment). Spellcheck cannot be counted on to find all errors.
Know your common mistakes. Have you noticed you repeat many of the same mistakes? Perhaps if one word ends with a “t” and the next beings with a “t”, you tend to only type one of them. Know that about yourself. Also, watch for an “in” that’s supposed to be an “is.” The small words can cause you much consternation. Knowing your biggest typing twisters is a step in the right direction.
Read it aloud. When you read out loud, it forces you to engage more fully with your copy. (It’s a great practice for dialogue, anyway.) You’ll notice mistakes and repetitive sentences that you otherwise might read over.
Try it backward. While you don’t want to read an entire novel backward, this is a great tip for catching mistakes in last minute revisions. If you just rewrote a scene, walk away from it, do something else for a brief while, then read it backward. You’ll see mistakes you missed when reading forward.
Make a list. Making a list of mistakes you often make (see tip 3) helps you to look for those each time. Remember that this is a living list, and should grow and change over time.
These few tips can help you improve the quality of your proofreading. Keep in mind that proofreading is a learned skill that requires some time and patience. And the final tip: no matter how good of a proofreader you become, always have at least two pairs of eyes on every document.
The final document that reads more cleanly and showcases your talent is the proof of your hard work—and your readers will thank you for it.