Proofreading tips

by Virginia Staat

“I do my best proofreading after I hit SEND.”  –Author Unknown

Your manuscript is completed.  Done.  Finito.  One task remains, however, before launching it on its journey to publication:  proofreading.  As author Maggie Murphy said in ByLine, “Careful proofreading isn’t going the extra mile for editors; it’s part of your job as a writer.”

Most proofreading tips are simple and easy to remember.  They include the following:

  • Let your manuscript rest before your final proofread.  Stick it in a drawer overnight, turn off the computer and go for a brisk walk, enjoy some music… anything that will reinvigorate you so that you can proof with fresh eyes.
  • Use a pen or pencil other than black to mark corrections.  (While red is the standard color, it sends me into flashbacks of too many writing courses and professors “bleeding” over my work.  I use pencil, standard proofreader marks, and also tick the offending line in the right margin.)
  • Slow down when proofreading.  Reading quickly encourages identifying words by their shapes rather than individual letters.
  • Proofread several times.  For many, it is helpful to first proof for spelling and hyphenations, and then grammar and punctuation, followed by double-checking commonly misused and misspelled words.
  • Proof titles, tables, captions, numbers, and names.
  • Proof your formatting.  Check for consistent fonts, alignments, and orphaned lines.  A great tip is to turn the page upside down to check spacing.

There are two additional critical steps when proofreading.  With nearly all manuscripts now being written on computers rather than old-fashioned notepads, it is essential that the final proofread uses a printed or “hard” copy.  This difference offers proofreaders a double gift.  It rests the eyes from the glaring computer screen and makes it easier to find stray commas and transposed letters.

Over the years, I have heard many proofreading tips, including proofreading backwards.  The idea is to slow your reading down and to train yourself to check each word.  Perhaps I am too forward thinking, because this method simply doesn’t work for me.  I have found instead that reading the manuscript aloud allows me to hear syntax.  It tests the lyrical nature of my writing.  It also forces me to sound out words, thereby making it easier to catch grammar and spelling mistakes.  It is my single, best proofreading tool.

Meticulous proofreading enhances your credibility and professionalism.  Most importantly, it allows readers to focus on your manuscript’s content, launching you ever closer to that well-earned acceptance letter.