Five Handy Proofreading Tips And Tricks For Writers And Authors

Proofreading Tips And Tricks

There are many proofreading tips and tricks. Using 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.

Prepare for a human proofreader

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.

Let’s look at some proofreading tips and tricks to help you.


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 grammar checkers to help in finding errors so that your text is double-checked.

There are many alternatives and choices.

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 uncontracted 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. It helps you to analyze 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 perhaps to an online proofreading service.

Just make sure you use a safe and secure means to share your manuscript file.

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 proofreading tips and tricks 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 Difference Between Copy Editing And Proofreading

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

Avatar for Derek Haines

6 thoughts on “Five Handy Proofreading Tips And Tricks For Writers And Authors

  • Avatar for Will Vigar
    March 21, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    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,

  • Avatar for Màiri Norris
    September 30, 2016 at 10:53 am

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

  • Avatar for Ellen
    September 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    This is extremely helpfull thank you.

  • Avatar for Ben
    September 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    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.

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      September 20, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      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.

  • Avatar for Sally Jenkins
    September 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    I like step two – never thought of doing that, but I will now!

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