Proofreading: Tips and Tricks

Since I have regularly displayed my lack of proofreading skills in past blog posts I thought it might be appropriate to look at some ways we can effectively proof our work.

At every conference I’ve ever attended there is at least one person’s proposal, pitch page, or sample chapter that has a typo which 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).

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.

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).

(Does this mean that if you write in Hebrew you should read it forward? As for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean it would mean from bottom to top, left to right.)

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 it all to the screen for Track-Changes. Find out what works best for you.

Avoid Speedreading

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 writer group networks to find the best. However, even though you hired someone, the responsibility lies with you.

Your Turn

Any other suggestions?

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

24 Responses to Proofreading: Tips and Tricks

  1. Avatar
    Anne Christian Buchanan March 28, 2016 at 4:42 am #

    Hi, Steve–the worse typo I remember wasn’t technically a typo, but it was definitely a proofing fail–by at least four people at the company where I worked. It was a book that profiled 5-6 prominent Americans, and their names were on the cover–all spelled right. But somehow the author (profiler’s) name got dropped! At least 4 of us checked this cover (including me) and nobody caught the problem. 10,000 copies were printed–and had to be reprinted. I learned a valuable lesson: have a checklist for basics to look for!

  2. Avatar
    Deb DeArmond March 28, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    Proofreading your own work, as you noted, is a challenge. I took a college journalism course in which we were required to submit a paper on the importance of proofreading. The professor was a stickler on the topic and wanted to transfer that sense of urgency to us. I received my paper back with a huge “F” in red on the cover sheet. He included this note: “A typographical error on your cover page indicates I have failed in my mission. And so have you. There was no need to read the remaining text.” He was correct about the error, but incorrect about his mission. Trust me, it was accomplished in a way he never imagined!

  3. Avatar
    Lisa March 28, 2016 at 6:02 am #

    It always amazes me that no matter how much I comb through a post, when it comes out on the other end there are always mistakes. I’ve discovered that if I hit the preview post button and read it like and in the correct format, I catch more of those mistakes than I would have otherwise…not really sure why that is, but it seems to work for me!

    • Avatar
      Rachel Malcolm March 28, 2016 at 6:58 am #

      Agreed! Typo’s slip through on my blog too. Once I had a typo in my title. My system now is to finish writing the night before. I find “sleeping on it” gives me fresh eyes, and I can often catch a typo in the morning that I missed the night before. Then I upload it to wordpress and hit preview. But even with those safety nets in place, mistakes still slip through. I just found a typo on a piece I wrote last month.

  4. Avatar
    Jay Payleitner March 28, 2016 at 6:55 am #

    Hi Steve:
    My second book, 40 Days to Your Best Life for Men, included this terrifying typo: “Flee from sexual immortality (1 Corinthians 6:18).” I couldn’t believe it. But that’s exactly what I submitted in my manuscript. The Cook Communication editors missed it. And I was certain hundreds of readers would write scathing letters and ransack my home. I let the publisher know . . . but I never heard anything about it again.

    Which brings me to the most effective tool for proper proofreading. That is, terror of finally getting a real book published and having it include an embarrassing typo that you don’t want people to see.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 28, 2016 at 7:46 am #

      Jay, it might be a typo, but at least it wasn’t a gross theological error. In Jesus’s response to the question about levirate marriage, He said that “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” (NIV, Luke 20:35-36)

      Does that make you feel better?

  5. Avatar
    Kari March 28, 2016 at 6:59 am #

    In a pinch, if I’m out of paper to print out a manuscript, I can change the font color to something obnoxious. For whatever reason, this seems to help my brain see what I didn’t before. Though, I prefer to print it out.

  6. Avatar
    Lee Carver March 28, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    As a freelance editor/formatter, I often find errors in sentences with the little words: to, the, a, in, etc. We tend to scan the row and see what we “know” is there, not what is printed.

    Also, errors frequently occur where the author has made a correction or moved words around by copy and paste.

    POV mistakes happen when the author has momentarily forgotten in whose voice she’s writing. It’s a clue that the voice may not be strong enough and may need more personal view or internal monologue to identify the POV.

  7. Avatar
    Katie Powner March 28, 2016 at 7:11 am #

    In case you were testing us to see if we could pick out typos, yours was in the last paragraph: someome where it should be someone. See, it’s easy to pick out someone ELSE’S mistakes!

    • Avatar
      Paula Young March 28, 2016 at 7:20 am #

      I must have been writing my post just as you posted yours!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube March 28, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

      Katie and Paula,

      Merely proving that you should never hire me to proofread your manuscript. Everyone has a different skill set and mine is not proofreading!

      Didn’t help that I wrote the post while dealing with the flu. (Excuses, excuses.)

  8. Avatar
    Paula Young March 28, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    Thank you for your blog post about proofreading and how difficult it can be to see errors, especially when the brain sees what ‘should’ be there. Did you hide a typo deliberately? In the section Hire a Pro: someome

    It gave me a chuckle, and of course, normally I would not have even mentioned the typo if it were not specific to your topic!

  9. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 28, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    Proofreading is a challenge for those of us who chunk when we read. I used to read aloud every night to my kids until they were in 5th grade, and I developed the ability to read at least a sentence ahead of what my mouth was saying so I could get the emotional expression right. I find it relatively easy to catch punctuation omissions/typos, but chunking plus scanning ahead so far make for a bad proofreader of words.

    To avoid doing that when I proofread, I print a hardcopy and follow along with a pencil tip on the last edit before I start giving it to beta readers. I reread sections frequently as I write, so it’s not an exaggeration to say I may have read a section 20 times. Sometimes I’ll still find a typo or a missing word my brain kept filling in as I chunk-read.

    I’m trying something new on my WIP, where I check word count (out of curiosity, not writing to a fixed word count) and run spellcheck on each short section as I finish it. It will be interesting to see if I find as many typos when I do the hardcopy proofing before I give it to my betas.

  10. Avatar
    Heather March 28, 2016 at 7:54 am #

    Don’t remember where I picked up this tip, but it helps. And it makes the tedious job of proofing more fun. Read out loud, but with an accent. I watch a lot of British crime TV, so for me, this is a chance to practice sounding like some of my favorite fictional sleuths.

    • Avatar
      Georgiana Daniels March 28, 2016 at 9:17 am #

      Cute idea! My kids love reading with accents so I got into the habit of doing it when we read for fun. Now I can try it with my own work 🙂

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube March 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      Heather,

      What a fun idea! The only problem is that you might end up changing the spelling of certain words like colour, publicise, or plough. Or make someone live in a flat instead of an apartment. Or even more dramatic, call 911 when you need a Bobby.

      Steve

      • Avatar
        Heather March 28, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

        Ha! Yes…I’m all sixes and sevens.

  11. Avatar
    Michael Emmanuel March 28, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    Most typos I make are contextual errors, or those originating from POVs. I do hope it won’t be a different story when I complete my WIP. Reading aloud (though awkward) works for me also.

  12. Avatar
    Georgiana Daniels March 28, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    There really is something about reading on a hard copy vs. a screen. It doesn’t matter how many times I read my work on the screen, I won’t see the typos. My eyes just skip over them.

    The other thing that works for me is TIME. If I try to proof my work immediately after finishing, I still won’t see the errors. If I let a few days pass I’m more likely to see not only the typos but the larger issues as well.

  13. Avatar
    Nora March 28, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    Well, first off, I missed your typo. So, what does that say about me? LOL

    I’m thinking of using the speak program on my computer to help with my WIP. I hate being read to, so this may not work well for me. But, it’s a thought.

    I agree. Letting a piece sleep for a little while will help highlight not only the proofreading parts but the overall parts as well.

    That being said, as far as blogs go, it’s hard to proofread what hasn’t been written. Working on the concept of that.

  14. Avatar
    Murray Grossan M.D. March 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    Apple allows you to listen to your written material in several voices – can be male or female, high or low pitch. Horrible errors in grammar are immediately picked up.
    I like to listen to the entire piece first, then repeat in sections to correct as I go along. This picks up repetition, which happens to be my worst fault.
    Listening to the whole piece at once also picks up changes in voice. However it misses spelling errors.

  15. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan March 28, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    I’m a big fan of using text-to-speech to have my computer read my writing to me. It’s even more helpful then reading it out loud.

  16. Avatar
    Kathy Ide March 28, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks, Steve, for posting on this important topic! In my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, I collected suggestions from several multi-published authors on how to proofread for typos and inconsistencies, and they came up with many of the same ideas you posted here. But some of your fans mentioned new ones. Might just have to include them in my next edition! 🙂

    The most embarrassing proofreading mistake for me was with that book. Since it’s ABOUT proofreading, I knew it needed to be free of errors. I’m a professional editor, so I went through it with my own fine-toothed comb. I director two editor networks, so I had several colleagues proofread it carefully. But after it went to print, I still found mistakes. ARGH!

    Even worse … in one of my first Amazon reviews for that book, someone gave me one star because there was a typo in the Table of Contents. Of all things, the word “proofreading” was misspelled! (Missing an o.) I KNEW I didn’t do that. So I did some digging and found out that the e-book publisher had retyped the Table of Contents when they put in the links to the chapters. They made the error, I didn’t. But a reader attributed it to me, saying that I must not have a clue what I was talking about because of that typo. Ouch.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writing Links in the 3s and 5…4/5/16 – Where Worlds Collide - April 5, 2016

    […] http://www.stevelaube.com/proofreading-tips-tricks/ […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!