To err is human – to proofread is to be a good writer: Seven effective proofreading hints
Don’t you just hate it when you have slaved over a piece of writing for hours, printed it out – only to find an error embedded somewhere in the text? Perhaps it was a typo, spelling error or glaring grammatical boo-boo.
Here is a list of seven very effective hints on doing away with those errors – or at least minimizing them:
- Give it away: As writers, we get too close to what we are writing. As we proofread we tend to read what we intended to write, rather than what we actually wrote. Get a trusted friend or family member to read through it. I often ask my wife; she can be meticulously severe on my writing. And that’s what you want – not someone who says, “Very nice,” but doesn’t want to offend you by pointing out the fifty three glaring errors you’ve overlooked.
- Let it sleep for a while: If you do not have a pressing deadline to meet, let the piece of writing sleep for a while. Come back to after a few hours, days or weeks. Fresh eyes will see errors that were hidden when you first wrote the piece.
- Have an audience of one: Read your writing aloud to yourself. Or to the dog, cat or canary – whoever. If you stumble over a phrase or sentence when reading aloud, so will your readers. If something doesn’t quite make sense to your ears, you will surely lose your readers at that point.
- Writer – know thyself: Be aware of weaknesses in your writing style, spelling abilities and grasp of grammar. Focus particularly on those weaknesses until you master them or you will be their slave forever. I have to be particularly careful of the spelling of some words because they almost always trip me up. Get a good dictionary.
- Turn down the volume: Sure – some writers can produce wonderful prose with the stereo blaring in the background, or the television on, or five screaming children running riot through the house. Some have no choice. I know I work best when there are few distractions and a minimum of noise. I know I can write in a busy, noisy environment – I was an elementary school teacher for thirty five years after all! My best writing, however, comes from a calm and quiet environment with few distractions.
- Print and peruse: Proofreading on a computer monitor is a very difficult task. Print out a hard copy and proofread that; you’ll find it easier to seek out those errors. Get a red pen and go to work.
- Play it again Sam: Well…maybe not. But it is important to read your work over and over and over again until you are sure it is free of errors.
PS: I’m hoping someone will proofread this for me; my favourite television programme is on in a few minutes. So much for those distractions!
UPDATE: I’ve just discovered another great article on proofreading called “The Impotence of Proofreading.” Read at your peril – there are deliberate errors embedded in the text.