The Art of Proofreading: Practical Tips

We all know that good writing should be edited and proofread before going to publication, but many times writers skip this step, especially when publishing on the internet. It’s simple to just write, run it through spell-check, and then publish with the click of a button. If, however, you want to be a top-notch writer known for quality work, you will need to make sure that you are covering these important steps. Here are some practical tips for making sure that your copy is flawless before you post.

Understand the Difference Between Editing and Proofreading

There are so many steps in the writing process that it’s easy to lose your place in the process. There’s revising, developmental editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. You can throw in a few extra steps if you want, or eliminate one or two if you’re just writing a blog post or an article. Revising is when you go back and make changes to your own work. Editing is when someone else makes changes to the work; reviewing content, language, and style. Proofreading should be the final step in the process, when the “proof” has been completed with proper alignment, spacing, images, and fonts. Proofreading, which we are examining here, is making sure that the final piece is as polished as it can be before publishing.

Fresh Eyes

Perhaps one of the most important keys to great proofreading is having the work looked at by someone who is not familiar with it already. If you’ve already read the work several times, you have a pre-conceived expectation of what is written, and that is what your brain will “see” on the page, regardless of what is there. Simple errors such as spelling issues, transposed words, and misplaced punctuation are very easy to overlook if you’ve already missed them a few times. If you insist on proofreading your own work, you might want to put it away for a few weeks, and revisit it when you haven’t viewed it in a while.

Read the Whole Piece Before Making any Corrections

It can be difficult, especially if you are someone with a good eye, but it’s very important to make sure that you read through the entire text before you begin marking errors. The reason is that when you are going line-by-line, you often miss the overall context of the piece, and you may overlook glaring problems with structure and flow. Obviously, these things should have been picked up during the editing phase, but if it wasn’t properly edited, going line-by-line breaks up the content and you don’t get a good feel for the piece.

Scan the Document

This is the point where you are going to look over things like spacing, font, style, and consistency. If you’re looking over a book, you’ll want to make sure that chapter headings and page numbers are consistent and properly aligned on each page. Make certain that the text is properly centered, and that any tables or images fit well into the text, and aren’t split between pages unless necessary.

Read it Slowly

After your preliminary read, you want to go through the text slowly, reading it out loud if possible. Make sure that tense, punctuation, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, and all the small grammatical rules have been followed. Use a ruler or a piece of paper to cover the lines below where you are reading so that you are forced to examine the words individually, and not in context. This trick helps for picking up spelling and punctuation errors.

When in Doubt, Ask

Sometimes you’ll run across a line or a section where you just aren’t sure how it is supposed to be taken. A dialogue section full of errors might be done purposefully, as a character trait. Sometimes things written in a “conversational tone” might break some of the tried and true rules that you’re familiar with. If you aren’t 100% sure of the authors intent, it’s always acceptable to ask. Make sure that you have a good line of communication open, and don’t hesitate to ask questions about style or intent.

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