After years of trial and error, I’ve gotten to where I combine proofreading with revision. Even though I never deliberately studied proofreading, my university papers were considered well proofed. You can pick up what you need to know by doing a lot of reading.
On the other hand, you may need to proofread now. For whatever reason, you may not have picked up the habit of proofreading effectively. First, I’ll explain my method and then list the tips.
My Proofreading Method
I proofread as I revise. That means I’m listening to how words and sentences sound as I review. You might be able to use this method, but I’m guessing not or you wouldn’t be reading this article. I’ll go over it briefly.
On the first draft, I don’t proofread or revise any further than rewriting the last sentence. Even an article like this one can be a jumbled mess the first time through. I revise later by re-reading and looking for problems. If an article is too short, I look to add missing ideas. If a novel is too short, I review the outline (plot) to see what I’ve missed. I always look to cut chapters (entire articles), paragraphs, sentences, and words. While I’m doing that, I’m also looking to fix typos, spelling, and grammar.
Let’s move on to specific proofreading tips.
1. Use Grammar and Spell Checkers
Every word processing program has them. Turn them on. Review what they highlight before making fixes. Sometimes they’re wrong. For example, not every sentence fragment needs to go.
2. Look Up Words You’re Not 100% On
Sometimes you use words assuming you know what they mean based on picking them up in someone else’s writing. If you aren’t absolutely sure what a word means, hit the dictionary.
3. Read Your Writing Out Loud
Even if you’re only reading aloud in your head, it helps. If you don’t speed read, that may sound confusing. Speed readers don’t sound out every word as they read. Read your writing at least once sounding out every word. You’ll catch ambiguous statements and lots of other problems.
4. Give Your Writing Time
If you’re writing a novel, just getting through a revision is plenty of time. An article can be written so quickly that you shouldn’t revise immediately. Work on another article and come back for the revision. You may find some surprises.
5. Cut the Boring Parts
The boring parts in fiction are where the story is not advancing. The boring parts of non-fiction are where knowledge is not advancing. Learn to recognize both. Does your novel need a minor character’s back story? Does your article need that anecdote?
6. Cut Big, Then Small
One of the most important parts of revision and proofreading is cutting. Start by cutting useless chapters if it’s a novel and by abandoning articles that just aren’t doing the job. Keep cutting in smaller and smaller chunks: paragraphs, sentences, and then words.
You can learn to proofread effectively with practice. If all of the above still doesn’t help, find a reader to review your writing and point out the problems.
That’s my two cents. I’ve admitted I never studied proofreading. Did I miss anything important?
Article by Ivan Izo.