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Ten proofreading tricks

Ten proofreading tricks

Proofreading your own writing is hard—as we discussed in this post about why you should have a proofreading buddy, it’s so easy to miss things when you’re reading your own writing. You’re so used to the words that you end up skimming, or you are so used to your own writing style that you don’t pick up on repetition or clichés.

Implementing any of these proofreading tricks can help you to improve the quality of your proofreading and, therefore, your writing. Try them out; decide which ones work best for you. Happy proofreading!

@@Proofread your own writing? Check out these tricks@@


1. Read backwards

This might sound funny, but it is seriously useful if you have the time to do it (it takes a while), especially if you often have trouble with spelling or missing words. When you read, you automatically skip over words and letters because your brain doesn’t need to see them all to make sense of what it’s reading. That’s useful for most types of reading, but when you’re proofreading, it gets in the way. Reading backwards helps to interrupt the flow of your reading and allows you to take more notice of any errors you may have made.


2. Use your finger to trace the words

As I said above, your brain skips things, and it’s probably going to try to speed up when you’re reading. If you use your finger to make your eyes focus on what you’re reading, you’ll be less likely to skip ahead or skim.


3. Read aloud

Again, reading aloud will help you to slow down. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up when you read aloud that you didn’t pick up when you read in your head (rhyme!). Another added bonus is that, when you read aloud, you are more likely to notice issues with tone—that is, if something sounds a bit funny or is worded strangely.


4. Give yourself time to proofread

Allowing adequate time for proofreading isn’t always possible. However, if you’re not in a rush, take your time. Don’t do it at the last minute, if you can help it. That way, you’ll be able to use proofreading tricks like the ones in this post, and you’ll be able to proofread more carefully.


5. Proofread more than once

This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. If you only have time for one proofread, then that’s better than nothing, obviously. However, proofreading multiple times helps you to pick up more errors and polish your piece—plus, you’ll get to implement more of the tips on this list (such as tip six and tip nine). One sub-tip, though: Don’t lose yourself to proofreading. At some stage, you have to get past the proofreading stage and let your piece loose on the world.


6. Give yourself time between passes

One of my writing teachers called this ‘incubating’. Taking time between proofreads is important for two reasons. Firstly, you give your eyes and your brain a break from the words, so when you come back, you’re refreshed and ready to look at them again, and you’ll probably pick up things that you didn’t before. Secondly, you’ll give yourself a break from the ideas, so when you return to them, you’ll be able to assess them to make sure you’re presenting them in the clearest way you can.

How long should you give yourself? As long as you possibly can. If that’s a week, perfect. If it’s just enough time for you to go take a nap and then come back, that works, too.


7. Proofread with a dictionary next to you

If you have easy access to a dictionary, you’ll be more likely to use it, right? I know sometimes when I’m proofreading, I’ll question a word, but because I’m lazy, I won’t look it up when I probably should. If you have a dictionary on hand—whether it’s a hard-copy version or an app version—you’ll use it, and hopefully pick up more than you would have otherwise.


8. Read a printed version

Reading a printed version is useful for so many reasons. If you find that your eyes get tired after reading your computer screen after a little while, then proofreading on paper is definitely the way to go for you. I think the best thing about proofreading on paper is that you can really get into it, scribbling and pouring your thoughts out through your pen. When you’re proofreading with paper and a pen, don’t implement your edits as you go: Proofread the whole document, and then move back to your computer. You’ll be able to focus better on your task, and you’ll make corrections more effectively.


9. Look for different things in each pass

Breaking your proofreading into sections may help you to do a better job. Everyone works differently—this tip doesn’t work so well for me, because I like to look for everything at the same time—I get distracted by errors if I don’t fix them as soon as I see them. However, if you find that you end up missing errors or becoming overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of your proofreading task, break it up into smaller tasks. The first read-through, you could look only for spelling errors. The second read-through could be for grammatical errors, while the third could be to make sure all your formatting looks good.


10. Use your proofreading checklist

If you know what to look for, and you’ve got it written down on a checklist, you’re going to pick up your own errors more consistently. Your proofreading checklist should contain errors you know you make often. For example, if you’ve noticed that you often mix up effect and affect, make sure that’s on your proofreading checklist.

Download the free proofreading checklist to help you get started.

Do you proofread your own writing? Do you think these tips will help you to improve how you proofread? Do you have any of your own tips that you’d like to share? Hop into the comments and let me know.

@@Ten proofreading tricks to help you self-edit@@


(PS: Here's a shortened version for you... feel free to pin it!)


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