I’m sitting here thinking, “How can I make this interesting?” This is the last episode in what has developed into a little series on the editing process – and I’ll confess, this post on proofreading is the one I’ve least looked forward to writing.
If you’ve just arrived, you might want to check out the previous articles in the series:
- Is This Habit Stifling Your Creativity? This explores the question of whether you should edit as you write.
- 10 Ways to Avoid Editing As You Write Practical tips for anyone who wants to resist the temptation to edit as they write.
- How to Turn Your Draft into a Masterpiece Advice on making the most of the editing process to improve your writing.
This week I’m rounding the series off with a look at proofreading.
So why am I not looking forward to this?
The thing is, I like to entertain you a bit; I love exploring the creative aspect of writing and blogging. So it’s with some reluctance that I don my teacher’s hat, pick up my red pen and prepare to dispense advice about proofreading – but I’m not going to chicken out, because it’s important.
Ready, class? Are you paying attention? OK, let’s get down to it…..
How’s your quality control?
It may seem a bit of a drag, and people sometimes suggest spelling and grammar aren’t that important in these days of tweets and text-speak. Don’t you believe it!
If your content is full of mistakes, it is going to make a difference – some of your readers will mind and may well stop reading your stuff on principle. After all, what does it say about you, if you can’t be bothered to correct your own mistakes before you publish?
As I pointed out in last week’s post, proofreading is not the same thing as editing. The editing process involves creatively improving and refining your draft. This week I’m focusing purely on proofreading, which is all about accuracy – spotting and correcting those typos and other bloopers, so you don’t end up with egg on your face.
This should be absolutely the last thing you do before you click ‘publish’.
General Proofreading Strategies
Before we look at the details of what you should check, I’ll begin with some general steps you can take to make your proofreading more effective. These are similar to the measures I’ve recommended for editing, but there are some points specific to proofreading:
- Take a break: Have a rest and get away from your draft before you start proofreading it. This helps you look at it with fresh eyes, so you’re more likely to spot mistakes.
- Make sure you’re wide awake: Proofreading requires your full concentration, so don’t do it when you’re tired.
- Avoid distractions: You’ll proofread much more effectively if you have peace and quiet. Choose a time and place when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or disturbed and try to get rid of any distracting clutter on your screen. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out my tips on how to minimize on-screen distractions. You might also be interested in my post on ZenWriter, a great free resource that gives you a clean, peaceful writing environment. If you want even more options, check out Dan Sumner’s recent post on focus writers.
- Make it easy on the eye: If you can, it’s best to print your draft out and proofread it from a paper copy, but I realize there’s a cost involved – printing ink’s not cheap. If you really must do your proofreading on screen, try increasing the font size or using the zoom function, to make it more comfortable to read.
- Do it very slowly: Proofreading should always be done slowly. Read it through carefully and thoroughly, making sure you check every single word – it can help to use a pointer such as a pen, or a mouse cursor if you’re proofreading on screen, to guide your eyes.
- Check one thing at a time: Proofreading purists will tell you to check just one thing at a time – grammar, spelling, punctuation or formatting – rather than reviewing everything at once. I’ll admit, I’m not disciplined enough to do this myself and I tend to check everything, apart from formatting, at one go. I’d find it very tedious to treat them as separate tasks – but that’s what the experts recommend. What do you think?
- Read it backwards: This is another one I haven’t had the patience to try myself, but a lot of proofreading articles suggest reading your draft backwards. Two reasons – it forces you to slow down (because reading backwards is pretty weird and not something you can rush) and it enables you to focus purely on accuracy rather than content and meaning (because it won’t make an ounce of sense!) You can read it backwards word for word to check spellings, but you’ll have to read it sentence by sentence to check your grammar. I’d be very interested to know if anyone’s tried this technique.
- Leave formatting checks until last: Ignore this tip at your peril – I don’t know how often I’ve fiddled with formatting before I’ve got everything else ship-shape, only to find it’s all gone to pot again as I’ve made other changes. Listen to the voice of experience and leave it until the bitter end - you’ll save yourself a lot of time and aggravation.
- Hire a second pair of eyes: As with editing, if you can find a willing volunteer, it’s well worth getting someone else to check your draft for errors. I’m really lucky that my long-suffering husband is willing to do this for me – he often spots things I’ve missed, even when I’m convinced I’ve checked it to death.
So – now we’ve covered how to do it, precisely what should you check?
Essential Proofreading Checks
- SPELLING: Run your draft through a spell checker but never rely on it – always do a ‘human’ spell-check as well. Pay particular attention to:
- Words that sound exactly the same but have different spellings. For example: “hear” and “here”; “wear” and ”where”; “two”, “too” and “to”.
- Words that sound similar but mean different things. It’s very easy to get words like “assure” and “ensure” or “affect” and “effect” mixed up – if you’re not sure which you need, look them up in a dictionary.
- GRAMMAR: Run your draft through a grammar checker but be aware these things aren’t infallible, so make sure you double check. Be on the alert for:
- Punctuation – especially apostrophes, which are frequently misused. If you’re not sure when you need one, check out my previous post on how to use apostrophes.
- Dangling modifiers – I love these, because they can be hilarious, but they do make you look like an idiot. This is when descriptive words get separated from the words they relate to. For example: “My dogs greet any visitors who come to the door, wagging their tails and barking like mad” – this makes it sounds as if my visitors wag their tails and bark. Get the idea? You could re-word this more correctly like this: “My dogs, wagging their tails and barking like mad, greet any visitors who come to the door”. The general rule is to keep any modifying words or phrases next to the words they modify – unless you want to give your readers a good laugh.
- Subjects and verbs that don’t agree – for example, watch out for when plural versions of verbs are needed. For instance, you’d write “the children were excited” but “the child was excited”.
- Mixing up past and present tenses – be consistent.
- ARE YOU SURE YOU KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS? If you’re not 100% sure of a word’s meaning, look it up in a dictionary. It’s very easy to use words incorrectly if you don’t use them very often, so if you’re not certain, checkity, checkity, check!
- HAVE YOU GOT YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT? If you’re including any factual information, for goodness’ sake make sure it’s accurate. Double check facts, figures and references. Never, never, never just write what you “think” something might be – check it out. With Uncle Google and the world wide web at your disposal, there’s no excuse for sloppy factual errors you can easily verify online. In case you’re not sure where to go for help, here’s an article with links to tons of free reference tools - including dictionaries to check the spelling and meaning of words.
- DO YOUR LINKS WORK? There’s nothing more infuriating than a broken link that goes nowhere – check ‘em!
- DO YOUR NUMBERS ADD UP? If you’ve included numbered lists, have you got the numbers in the correct order? Are there as many as you’ve promised in your headline? Your readers will feel short-changed if you’ve promised 30 tips and they can only find 29.
- HAVE YOU CLOSED ALL YOUR BRACKETS AND QUOTES? Easy to miss this one!
- ABBREVIATIONS: Are you using them consistently and have you explained them? Don’t just assume your audience will know what they mean – it’s very irritating to read an article full of abbreviations you don’t understand.
- FINAL FORMATTING CHECKS: As I’ve already mentioned, make sure you do this last of all and be on the lookout for:
- Inconsistent spacings between lines, paragraphs, words and sentences.
- Inconsistent formatting of bulleted or numbered lists.
- Inconsistent font type, size and colour.
- Misaligned margins.
When you’ve done all of that – then you’re good to go. You can click ‘publish’ with a clear conscience, without worrying your post’s going to put you to shame. You might still miss the odd thing – we’re all human and any reader will forgive that – but if you’ve taken reasonable care with your proofreading, any mistakes should be minimal.
The proofreading process may seem tedious and time consuming, but the quality and accuracy of your work speaks volumes about you. Making money blogging involves persuading people to buy things from you, sign up to your list, click on your links, share your content – if you want them to do any of those things, you need to start by gaining their trust and respect.
Who’s going to want to share a post with their followers if it’s full of glaring errors? It will reflect badly on them, as well as on you.
So get checking!
This is the point at which I ask you to let me know if you’ve spotted any howlers in this post – you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to take longer than usual proofreading this one. Mind you, if you do find any, my husband’s for the high jump!
Whether you’ve found any unforced errors or not, I’d love to hear your views – especially if you have any proofreading tips of your own you’d be willing to share. Just leave a comment below.
And don’t forget – if you’ve found this helpful, please share it with your friends!
PS I was just about to publish this when I came across an excellent article by my blogging friend Koundeenya, with links to some proofreading tools and other great writing resources. Koundeenya’s blog is well worth a visit and you can check out his post on writing tools here.
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