Using online tools to make 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 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 rushing into the human stage, there are some electronic measures you can take to eradicate many fundamental grammar errors and punctuation mistakes, as well as formatting errors and typos.
By using an online tool, grammar check, spell check or other software first, you will make human proofreading a far less difficult and time-consuming task. For you, your copy editor if you have one, and for others who will check your document.
Step One. Divide up your manuscript.
Save your original manuscript and make sure you have it safely backed up.
Now make a copy of it and save it into a new file location. This will be your file copy for editing and proofreading.
From this copy, select each chapter one by one, and then copy and paste each chapter into a new Word document and save each one by the chapter number or title.
Why is this necessary?
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 a spelling checker first to find the obvious spelling errors. Then concentrate on sentence structure with a grammar checker.
By working on one chapter at a time, you can keep notes of the grammatical 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 in chapter files and always have backups.
Step Two. Word Find is your friend
For each chapter, you can use the standard spelling and grammar checker in MS Word. It will find some errors, but it is not highly reliable as it does not do a good job of finding contextual spelling errors or run on sentences.
To track down these errors, Find is your friend.
Use Find in 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 well be variations in 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 with Find.
When you have completed your first chapter, you should have a solid list of your errors that you can tick off in subsequent chapters.
Step Three. Use online and free 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 others 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 to help 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 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, as it is very easy to mix US and British forms.
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 so your manuscript will 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 eradicate so many fundamental errors.
No automated proofreader or online document checking will ever replace the keen eyes of a good human proofreader, reading silently or aloud. Never trust them to be a 100% replacement for a human.
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.
Further reading: The Best Free Online Grammar Checker