Proofreading can be skewed based on our mood, our level of fatigue, as well as our mindset. If you think you are not going to do a good job of proofreading, then you probably won’t.
I frequently proofread for clients and friends, and when I write, I find it over-the-top difficult to proofread my own work if I don’t follow my system.
Do not complete a final proofread as soon as you’ve finished writing the piece. Always set your work aside. Proofread your work hours later.
When you proofread your finished product immediately, your eyes have a tendency to see what you want them to see. You do not see the depth of your grammar, spelling, or even the flow of your words. You hear the story or words as you intended to write them, not as you actually wrote them.
2. Read backward
Seriously. Read your work in a different order than you wrote it. This fools your mind into seeing it as a fresh piece, and this opens your eyes to see glaring mistakes such as misspellings, repeated words, and incorrect formatting.
3. Change the format
Print the piece out. Read it on paper. Or, read the piece on a different computer (on mobile – your phone, or on a tablet). Looking at your work in a different format helps you to see the writing with fresh eyes. Go as far as changing the font or the color of the print, anything that helps you to see the work through a different set of lenses.
4. Read your work out loud
This is key! Read the piece out loud in a natural voice. When you stumble while reading sentences, you’ll know the sentence is structured poorly. As you read out loud, you might find yourself saying, “Wait!…What?…This makes no sense!” Bingo! You’ve spotted an area of your writing that needs correction or clarification.
5. Read it again
Read your work multiple times. If you are not comfortable with the piece after a second reading, put it aside until you are rested, then read it again.
6. When in doubt…ask a proofreader
After re-reading several times, if you feel you might have missed errors, or if you feel you have what I call “fuzzy” muddy writing, ask someone else to read your piece. It can be painful when someone changes your words, or recommends a complete string of corrections, but, you’ll learn from it, and your finished writing will be completed with clarity. Remember, the world listens and holds interest when your writing is error free!
A good proofreader will either edit, if you’ve instructed them to do so, or they will make suggestions for correction. People that proofread on a regular basis have well-trained “eagle eyes” for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Don’t miss out on help!
(Note: This blog post is for the basic practice of self-proofreading. When I proofread for a client much more is involved. In short, a proofreader/editor should complete more than one read-through, a spelling check, a grammar check, a check of all links, a fact check (if client requests), ensure the piece flows well, and that it includes only pertinent information – no drifting off-topic.)