Proofreading tips and techniques for all writers
Editing, copy editing and proofreading are separate processes in the preparation of a text in the publishing industry.
The three are used for a newspaper article, online content or a business document. But the processes are more commonly associated with preparing a manuscript for a book.
After the editing services are complete, often by a copy editor, a proofreader checks a text for spelling, grammar and typographical errors.
A professional proofreader usually uses a set of defined proofreading symbols from style guides to note errors in spelling, punctuation or omissions.
Here is an example from the Chicago Manual of Style.
The following list is taken from figure 2.6 of the 17th edition of the Manual.
Wikipedia also lists the most common proofreader’s marks.
How does a proofreader work?
If you plan to use a professional proofreading service, you can normally find an estimation of price on the proofreader’s website.
However, you can always discuss and negotiate. Some proofreading services charge per 1,000 words, while others on an hourly rate.
You might want to check if any references are available.
You should also ask in what format your document will be returned to you and if you will be able to see all the changes and corrections. Track change in Word is the most obvious way to do this.
If you are going to pay, make sure the service does not use online proofreader software or an electronic proofreading tool.
You only want to pay for access to experienced professional human proofreaders.
It is not always practical or economical to hire a professional.
For students who need to have their papers edited and proofread, the cost is often much more than they can afford.
If you are a blogger who is writing two articles a day, you need to get your work done quickly and efficiently. It is obviously not cost-effective to pay for every article you write.
For authors, a book of between 60,000 to 120,000 words can cost anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000.
As the average annual earnings of self-publishing authors are quite modest, the price of proofreading can prove prohibitive.
But in all cases, you really should find someone else to proofread for you.
You know you have good writing skills. But a writer’s brain is often so hard-wired into the creative process that it can easily overlook even simple spelling errors. It is a difficult process to spot mistakes in your own writing.
If you are in contact with other writers, why not help each other out? Perhaps you have a friend or family member who can help.
Finding someone to help you is essential, particularly if you use English as a second language.
Whether you decide to proofread for other people or your own writing, if you follow some of the basic proofreading techniques you will achieve much better accuracy.
How to proofread
The very first step is to use online editing tools and a grammar and spelling checker. Grammarly is a very popular online tool for quickly finding and correcting spelling, punctuation, syntax and grammar mistakes in a document.
Another option is Prowritingaid which comes with a lot of extras. If you are not sure about a grammar rule, this program can help you with detailed explanations.
But it is not proofreading. Any online tool is only a useful aid to find and fix basic grammatical errors or as a quick spell checker. It will not result in an error free text.
However, by finding and correcting the most obvious errors, it will save you time in the proofreading process.
Once you have completed an online check for grammar and punctuation, it is time to turn off the screen. You can read on a PC, iPad or Kindle, but it is impossible to proofread on a screen.
You absolutely need to print out your text.
A good proofreading tip is to adjust your text to double line spacing and even increase the font size a little.
Now sit down with your text, grab a coffee, and a red pen.
To start, go to the last page and look at the last word. Then slowly read the text, sentence by sentence, from end to beginning. Why?
With this technique, it helps you concentrate on each sentence individually, without the handicap of worrying about context or story flow.
It allows you to focus your attention on orthography, word by word, on every single word in each sentence.
Pay particular attention to punctuation marks such as missing question marks and unclosed quotation marks in particular.
Mark the errors you find, and perhaps use the symbols from the image earlier in the article.
Now go to the beginning of the text and start reading out loud. Maybe you will need to find somewhere quiet and private for this stage.
When you read aloud, your brain can work with two senses instead of one. Using your eyes and your ears together will find more errors that your eyes alone.
Read each word slowly, and go back and repeat a sentence or passage if you have any doubts. As you do, let your ears listen for things that “just don’t sound right”.
Your eyes will continue to focus on typos, missing and unnecessary commas, a misplaced punctuation mark or paragraphing irregularities.
The most important ingredient is taking it slowly and double checking every line. Never rush the task of proofreading.
When you have finished, go back to your computer and make all the corrections to your document.
For a short document, once is usually enough.
But for a long novel, you will need to go through this process at least two or three times.
Slow and accurate are the best two words to describe the process of proofreading.
It can never be done in a hurry. When you need to do it, make sure you have plenty of time and no distractions. You need to concentrate, so turn off the music and the television.
If you have to proofread your own writing, always leave it for a day, or even longer before you start. You need to disconnect from the writing process before you can begin to be analytical.
For authors, leaving a finished manuscript for a month or more is very good advice.
There is no quick and easy way. You can use all the online tools you can think of, but they will never replace human reading.
Electronic tools are very poor at understanding words in context. They will very often miss words that are spelt correctly but are not accurate in meaning or placement.
The only proofreading tools you can trust to find grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting errors are human eyes.
Further reading: How To Become A Better Writer With Seven Easy Writing Skills