Use online tools can make your proofreading easier.
Editing and proofreading a long manuscript is laborious and time-consuming.
But there are ways to make the task easier and to catch mistakes such as spelling, punctuation and formatting as well as typographical errors.
Once you have finished your manuscript, after numerous drafts, edits and re-writes, it’s time to silently read and re-read your manuscript sentence by sentence and word by word.
Ideally, this should be the task of someone other than yourself, and even more preferably, by more than one proofreader.
As the author, you should leave your final proofreading of the text until others have completed the task and their notations have been corrected.
However, before you rush into the human stage, there are electronic measures you can take to find many basic grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, as well as formatting errors and typos.
By using an online tool like a grammar check, spell check or other software first, you will make human proofreading a far less difficult and time-consuming task.
It will make it easier for you, your copy editor if you have one, and for others who will check your document.
Step One. Divide up your manuscript.
Before you start, make sure you save your original manuscript and make sure you have it safely backed up.
Now make a copy of it and do a save as to copy it into a new file location with a new file name. This will be your file copy for editing and proofreading.
From this new copy, select each chapter one by one, and then copy and paste the full text of each chapter into a new Word document and save each one by the chapter number or title.
Why is it necessary to do this?
It is because some online software, including grammar and spell checkers, struggle, go slow and can even lock up on long documents.
In fact, Microsoft Word slows to a crawl on very long documents, and this increases the chance of crashes and file save failures.
Working on chapter size files makes the task a lot faster and safer. Use the spelling checker first to find the obvious spelling mistakes. Then concentrate on sentence structure with a grammar checker.
By working on one chapter at a time, you can keep notes of the kinds of errors that recur frequently, and use these notes to assist you in the following chapters.
In fact, this is a good writing habit. Write one chapter, save it safely, and start a new clean document for the next chapter.
Working on one long document, particularly if it is your only copy is inviting a technical disaster.
One crash or file corruption and all your hard work will be gone forever.
Write and save in chapter files and always have reliable backups. When you have finished the whole proofreading process you can combine all your chapters into your final draft.
Step Two. Word Find is your friend
For each chapter, you can use the standard spelling and grammar checker in Microsoft Word.
It will find some errors but it is not very reliable. It does not do a good job of finding contextual spelling errors or grammatical errors such as run on sentences and fragments.
To track down some of the most basic errors in your text, Find can be useful.
Use Find in Microsoft Word for common errors you make such as, it’s and its, than and then, him and his, you and your.
Also, use it to check names.
If you have a character named Sam, there is probably no issue. But for a name like Madeleine, there could be variations in your spelling.
Also use Find to locate titles Mr., Dr. or Mrs and look for missing or inconsistent punctuation. You can use Find for any word or phrase that you tend to use a lot.
As a writer you should have a good idea of the types of errors or typos you make repetitively, so use Find to track them down.
Words that are overused such as like, just, really, actually or Oh can also be found quickly.
When you have completed your first chapter, you should have a solid list of your spelling, punctuation and grammar errors that you need to check for in subsequent chapters.
Step Three. Use online and free grammar checking software.
All electronic proofreading, spelling and grammar checkers work differently, so what one can’t find, another might.
My advice is to use at least two online checkers to help in finding errors so that your text is double-checked.
There are many alternatives and choices, but here are a few for file formats including .doc, .docx, .pages and .rtf.
On an Apple computer, use Pages.
On a PC use Open Office.
Use an online service. I use Grammarly, which works extremely well, especially for commonly repeated words, eliminating the passive and correcting punctuation. It also suggests synonyms that can help you overcome repetition.
For authors, I would highly recommend considering Prowritingaid because it works extremely well on long documents such as a manuscript.
If you use a free online proofreader or grammar checker, there is usually a text length limit, so having your book already divided into chapters helps you here again here.
Step Four. Checking for consistency
At any stage of your electronic checking, keep your eyes open for inconsistencies. These can take many forms.
Perhaps your dialogue is using contracted forms but then changes to un-contracted in one chapter. A good tip for dialogue is to read it out loud to hear if it sounds natural.
Punctuation can also need attention, such as mixing double quotes and single quotes.
Check that your spelling is consistent because it is very easy to mix US and British English forms.
If you are not sure about certain aspects, you can always consult a good style guide to help you with consistency. You can check our article about the Oxford Comma for a list of style guides.
Reading silently and slowly is one of the best ways to improve your writing skills because it helps you to analyse and learn from your mistakes.
Step Five. Create your new manuscript for human proofreading.
Once you have completed your visual and electronic checks of each chapter, copy and paste each chapter back into a completely new Word document. This will be your final edited copy.
Your manuscript will then be ready for you to send to your proofreaders, or if you plan to use an online proofreading service.
All your proofreading ensures that there will be a lot less work for others to do now that you have taken the time to remove and correct so many fundamental errors.
No automated proofreading or online document checking will ever replace the keen eyes of human copy editing, proofreading and correcting.
Never trust any method to be a 100% replacement for a human.
It doesn’t matter if you are proofreading a novel, a journal article, a term paper or a blog post. Always take the time to check, re-check and double-check again.
However, by following these few basic steps outlined above, you will eradicate a lot of errors and make human proofreading a much easier task. If you plan to pay for professional proofreading, it will also save you money.
Finally, when you get to your very last proofread, it should be on paper and not on a computer screen.
Related reading: The Best Free Online Grammar Checkers