Some people may seem to be born editors. But, like the craft of writing itself, proofreading is an acquired skill that with enough practice can be mastered. Whether you aspire to be the best possible article writer or dream of being a published author, proofreading is a skill you must develop. Here are 8 expert tips for proofreading your writing.
Recognize Your Own Common Writing Mistakes
Becoming a better proofreader starts with recognizing your own common writing mistakes. These might be simple mistakesI such as forgetting the “i before e except after c” rule, leaving out punctuation such as commas or semicolons, or overusing certain words. This self-awareness of your own mistakes aids in catching these errors in other people’s writing, while also helping you polish your own work.
Be Aware of Common Misspellings
Most word processor programs, such as Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages, have spell checkers that catch most common misspellings. But, there are deceptive doppelgängers which are technically correctly spelled words, but lurk undetected in prose when misused by accident. These includes cases like “sea” and “see.”
Even expert writers may misuse certain words without noticing. Once a writer misspells or misuses a word enough times, it becomes a very difficult, if not impossible, habit to break. So, learn to vanquish these errors by arming yourself with knowledge of the most common misspellings.
Proofreading Helps Weed Out the Imprecise
An expert proofreader catches more than missing punctuation, misspellings, and misused words. Proofreading also means adjusting incorrect sentence structure, unnecessary repetition, and awkward wording. Your job is to improve the flow and clarity of the text as a whole. Writers depend on proofreaders to make sure their text not only obeys the laws of grammar, but also is clear and understandable.
Read Aloud While Proofreading
Something I was always told in my youth is to read your writing aloud after you’ve written it. This turns out to be an extremely useful proofreading tip. This is because that when we read silently to ourselves, our subconscious mind has a way of making us read what we think should be written on the page.
But, as a proofreader, you can’t let your subconscious trick you. You need to read what’s truly on the page. To overcome this, read the text aloud, slowly and deliberately. You will catch far more errors and awkwardness this way, realizing when sentences read strangely or words are repeated too many times in a paragraph.
Always Proofread with Fresh Eyes
When proofreading your own work, it’s wise to always do so with fresh eyes. If you’ve just written something, before you proofread it, take a break and let your mind wander. When you return, your mind will have refocused. Then, you’ll be able to plainly spot errors that may have been hidden before. Even when proofreading others’ work, it’s good to give the text a once-over, then put it aside, and come back to finish proofreading on a second pass.
Proofread Everything At Least Twice
A master proofreader knows that a single glance at a piece is never enough to be satisfied. So, not only should you always proofread with fresh eyes on a piece, you should always do it more than once. In fact, some writing professionals will proofread their work ten times or more! Reading over a piece several times ensures that you can work it free of spelling and grammatical errors. Also, through repetition, you perfect the clarity and quality of the text.
Two Proofreaders Are Always Better Than One
We writers are always at our best when we collaborate, even when working on a solo piece. Seeking the aid of fellow proofreaders, whether friends or professionals, gives us fresh perspective needed to unveil any of our previously unseen errors. Even the most skilled proofreaders will occasionally summon their peers for counsel. This is especially true when you’re proofreading your own work, to have an unbiased third party.
Learn to Recognize When the Mind Works Faster Than the Pen
As we writers get into the flow of writing, our minds often race ahead, leaving our pens and fingers to catch up. In this frantic pursuit, errors are bound to occur. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, because drafting is a necessary part of the process that we must accept is typically quite imperfect. Fortunately, we have proofreading to fall back on, seeking out passages that may have been lost in translation from thought to word.
One issue when proofreading your own writing, is that you may not catch the rifts between intention and execution. After all, in your mind, you know what you meant to say. This is why you must approach your writing, and any that you proofread, with an unbiased eye. Only then can you ensure the message being written is clear and true.
Final Thoughts About Proofreading
Proofreading is an essential step in the writing process, and practicing it with vigor demonstrates a commitment to producing high-quality work. By paying attention to details such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, you’ll make your writing more clear and concise, and ultimately more effective in communicating your ideas.
As you refine your proofreading skills, you’ll also develop a discerning eye for style and tone, which will help you to polish your writing to perfection. By embracing these few proofreading tips, you will not only elevate your own writing to new heights, but become a guiding light for fellow scribes to emulate and turn to for advice.
~ Amelia Phoenix Desertsong, April 22, 2023
Related: 5 Writing Skills to Practice to Bring Out Your Inner Creative Talent