Proofreading–a lot of people don’t even like to consider it as part of writing. It’s boring and difficult. And it’s time consuming. I don’t know many writers who jump at the chance to sit down and start this final level of writing. Can you relate?
But of all the stages of the writing process that we have discussed in this series, proofreading has possibly the greatest ability to do serious damage to the relationship between your reader and you. A glaring mistake sends a negative message that is not easily overcome.
How do you handle proofreading yourself? Do you love it, hate it, or try your best to ignore it while just blundering through, hoping that everything works out okay? Let’s take a closer look!
Proofreading–Key to Writing Success
In this series we looked at all the main stages of the writing process. That process culminates with proofreading. For many writers, this is the most difficult and often dreaded chore at the end of the writing road.
However, like it or not, those last eyes that go over your writing are so very important. The absence of errors in your final copy says a lot about you as an author, a professional, or business person. Whatever your niche or purpose for writing, if the proofreading isn’t carried out well, it reflects on you in the eyes of your reader.
Have you ever searched online for information on some topic of interest? Your eyes scan the list of search results and lock onto a title that assures you that your hunt is complete. Ready to find your answers, you click open the piece and start to read.
But, you don’t read but a few lines and then you notice an obvious spelling mistake or a duplicated word. At first, you try to just read over it, but then the errors keep coming up. They detract from the content. And many times, unfortunately, you as a reader make judgments about that person’s authority, knowledge, and ability.
If it was an article containing medical information written by a doctor, for example, and it was full of obvious misspellings and improper grammar, etc., what happens? Many people question the ability and knowledge of that doctor. He or she might be at the top of that field, but the lack of good proofreading damages the confidence of the reader. This does not have to happen!
The whole purpose of proofreading is to rid your written piece of any and all errors of any kind. The editing process begins the job and proofreading wraps it up at the end. So, in order to accomplish this feat, it’s fair to ask what skills are necessary to make it all happen?
This post is by no means a complete explanation of how to proofread. That is a topic for another day. Still, there are certain skills you can learn to maximize your proofing efforts along the way.
The more intense and strong your focus is, the better. Keep your mind on the work before you. Mistakes large and small slip by unnoticed to the proofreader whose thoughts wander to other things while trying to catch errors in a document.
Know the Basics of the Language.
Face it, if you don’t know the rules and tenets of English you are already set up to fail in proofreading. It’s true. You won’t recognize what is wrong if you don’t confidently know what is right.
This is helpful in keeping the content bright and sharp. Clarity of thought helps create concise writing. It also gives you the ability to understand and follow the purpose of the writing. Even in the proofreading stage, little corrections are commonly made to strengthen meaning and clarify flow.
Knowledge of the Information.
If you are proofreading your own material, then chances are you do know the material. But whether it is your own writing or that of someone else, accuracy of information counts huge! Don’t take anything for granted. Check and recheck your sources. Get it right or suffer the consequences.
Awareness of the Reader.
As you are proofreading, think in terms of how the words and message will be received and interpreted by the reader. The name of the game is to keep the reader engaged and understanding the content. Things may be assumed or understood by the writer that leave the reader hanging over the cliff in a fog.
As part of the proofing process, you must be the reader. Every stage of the writing process ultimately has the reader in mind.
Allow Yourself Appropriate Time.
Although there are times when a proofreader may have to deal with time crunches brought on by deadlines or a client’s needs, for the most part a lot of time is needed for getting the job done right. Depending on the length of the written piece you’re working on, the final proofing process can sometimes take weeks to accomplish.
Knowing this ahead of time and making allowance for it saves you a lot in terms of frustration, stress, and errors overlooked. Time is the proofreader’s friend.
Proofreading Tips That Really Count.
- Proofreading quickly and well is an oxymoron. It just doesn’t happen. The time factor is critical to proofing success. Rush it and you set yourself up for failure. It’s just that simple.
- Catching every mistake is not accomplished in a single read through the material. A good proofreader reads the piece in entirety several times with a different focus each time.
- The most difficult writing to proofread is your own. It’s true. Why? Mainly because you are too familiar with it. There is great benefit in another pair of eyes besides your own. We don’t think word by word; we think in thoughts. If you are the writer, you have focused on the thoughts all through the creation process. It’s tricky to change into the proofreading mode later.
- Distance yourself from the writing. This is so very true–essential–if you are attempting to proofread for yourself. Take time away from the project. Get your mind totally off the subject. For days or weeks. Break away. Then when you return to it as a proofreader, it will be easier to drop that familiarity. Your eyes will have an easier time looking at it critically rather than just glancing over the details.
- Do run spell check on your work before you begin to proofread. It will catch the obvious spelling errors and save you some time. Do not depend on spell check to be your sole proofreader. It fails miserably and consistently. Resist the temptation to do this!
- Ask someone to help proofread. It is quite effective to have someone else proofread behind you. By two or three of you following each other, more and more errors are found and corrected. If your assistants are good at it, this method of proofreading will take you far in your quest for a perfect copy.
Basic Proofreading Steps.
While the goal of proofreading is to produce a clean, clear, and perfect copy for the reader, there is more than one method for getting there. No matter what track you take as a proofreader, though, there are basic steps that must be taken.
The following is the method that I find consistent and effective in addressing the proofreading stage of the writing process. Again, we are talking bare-bones basics here, not the technical side of the proofreading process at all.
- Print out a paper copy of the document.
- Read the complete written piece start to finish first.
- Next, read through again, but in small sections this time. I take a few paragraphs or a section if not too large. Mark each error found using clear legible proofreading marks.
- Ask another person to do the same with a clean copy.
- Compare the two copies and make all corrections to original.
- Reprint another copy of the corrected original.
- Read again in small sections.
- Ask the other person to do the same.
- Then read the entire document backwards. Yes, begin at the last paragraph of the document. Then read each sentence word by word from the end of each sentence to the beginning. (This takes your mind out of “thought mode” and draws the focus down to the actual words and mechanics of the writing.)
- Make final corrections to original.
- Rinse and repeat until a read-through comes out free of errors.
There you have it! Those are the basics of proofreading, the final stage in the writing process. You’ve hopefully learned a lot by reading this post and the whole six-part series.
Please, if you need help with any stage of your writing project, contact me. I am happy to have an initial consultation with you to see how we can work together to make your writing goals happen! Check out the Work With Jane section to find out some of the many services I offer.
Thank you & God Bless!