Proofreading: Tips and Tricks

[Since today, March 8th, is National Proofreading Day I thought I would re-post this article from a few years ago, with some revisions. I’ve left the comments attached below since so many were illustrative. Please add new thoughts as well.]

I have regularly displayed my lack of proofreading skills in past blog posts. In fact, it got so bad I’ve had to hire someone to proofread my posts before I fling them upon you. Thus it might be appropriate to look at some ways everyone can effectively proof their own work.

At every conference I’ve ever attended, there is at least one person’s proposal, pitch page, or sample chapter with a typo that jumps off the page. It is never a “fatal” error, but noticeable nonetheless.

At least try not to have the typo in the title of the book. (Yes that has happened more than once.)

Worst typo in my publishing experience? While I was working at a major publishing house in editorial (over 20 years ago), we published a book where the author’s name was misspelled on the front cover. Correct on the spine. Correct on the back cover. Correct on the title page. INCORRECT on the cover. Went to press and books were shipped; then the error was discovered. Not much happiness that day.

So what are some things you can do?

Read Your Work Out Loud

Better yet? Have someone else read it to you. This can also help with clarity. Amazing how others emphasize the wrong word in your sentence.

An author recently told me that nearly 30 typos were discovered during the production of the audio version of their already published novel. The voice talent discovered and pointed them out.

Read it Backwards

The main reason your brain misses errors is that it anticipates what it will see. By going the other direction, you must intentionally see each word.

Homonyms in particular will stand out (like pray vs. prey, or accept vs. except, or taught vs. taut).

Hard-Copy Reading 

For some, the screen is an impediment to careful reading. I know some editors still use hard copy for their edits and then transfer them all to the screen for Track Changes. There is something about the tactile nature of pen on paper that helps me. I’ll print a contract and then read it. Never only on screen. Often it depends on how one learned to edit in the first place.

Avoid Speed-reading

Hopefully, you are not like the rest of us and you have planned ahead. You are not rushing to proof your work at 2 a.m. because it is due the next morning.

Proofreading is not something to do at the last minute. Take your time.

Hire a Pro

There are a number of freelance editors who will do the job for you. Prices vary. Use your writers group networks to find the best (or take a look at the latest edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide where there are 70 pages of freelancers listed). However, even though you hired someone, the responsibility lies with you.

Your Turn

Any other suggestions?

It has been mentioned that you can have your phone or computer read it to them. Can someone explain how that works?

What was the worst error you ever let slip through and onto the page?

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