Electronic And Online Proofreading Tips And Tricks For Writers

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Proofreading Tips And Tricks For AuthorsUsing online proofreading tools makes it easier for humans later

Editing and proofreading a long manuscript is laborious and time-consuming, but there are a few ways to make the task easier.

Once you have finished your manuscript, after numerous drafts, edits and re-writes, it’s time to silently read and proofread your manuscript sentence by sentence.

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 corrected.

However, before rushing into the human proofreading stage, there are a few electronic measures you can take to eradicate many fundamental grammar errors and punctuation mistakes, as well as and typos.

By using a proofreading tool, grammar check, spell check or other software first, you will make human proofreading a far less difficult and time-consuming task.

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 as the chapter number or title.

Why is this necessary?

It is because some online proofreading software, including grammar and spell checkers, struggle, go slow and can even lock up on long documents.

In fact, MS 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 proofreading 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 document for the next chapter.

Working on one long document, particularly if it is your only copy is inviting technical disaster.

One crash or file corruption and all your hard work will be gone forever.

Write 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 MS 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. 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.

However, Ginger is another app that is highly recommended.

Here is a link to a review of online grammar checkers and proofreading software.

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. Punctuation can also change, such as double quotes or 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.

They will have a lot less work 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.

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

6 thoughts on “Electronic And Online Proofreading Tips And Tricks For Writers

  • I was going to comment on the irony of having a grammatical error in step 5, but clearly that was spotted between sending the email and now. ;)

    Instead I’ll reiterate support for step 1; separating chapters for writing and production is so much more useful than most people realise. It’s certainly a lot easier to join a lot of separate files than it is to split one big one.

    Maybe it matters less if your production methods only deal with Amazon, but there are many vastly improved production methods, of both EPUB and print, which are better served by feeding in separate chapters than one single book file. I’m currently in the process of preparing a print version of something already released as an EPUB with a few differences for the print version and it’s so much easier when those differences are simply a matter of calling the alternative files from the map of the print version with the majority of the material matching the original.

    As for rejoining that material into a single book. The process which creates the EPUB still retains separate files (which would be seen if the EPUB were unzipped) and the print version is rebuilt after the conversion to PDF. The process is basically: XML source ➞ XHTML+CSS ➞ PDF ➞ joining files, inserting blanks, final typesetting checks and page numbering ➞ conversion to PDF/X-3:2002. The same XML source builds the EPUB 3 files, though I usually tweak the metadata (content.opf) after the build.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment, Ben.

      But I am perplexed. Yes, there was one small typo in my original post, which I corrected less than 30 minutes after posting. It was a typo, not a grammatical error.

      But now, days and days later, why would you even think of mentioning this? Some kind of petty point scoring?

      By the way, your grammar isn’t exactly perfect, so maybe you should resist calling the kettle black.

      Reply
  • It had not occurred to me to use Pages for spelling/grammar corrections. Thanks! Good post.

    Reply
  • One thing that has been of enormous value to me has been “Read and Write Gold” – a text to speech programme that allows you to listen to what you have written. There’s is nothing like a voice stumbling on incorrect punctuation and spelling to alert you to errors! It’s designed for people with dyslexia, but works brilliantly as a proof reading tool,

    Reply

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