Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Secrets of Proofreading (Lizzie)

The battle for an error-free work begins… 

So you've polished your manuscript, had it critiqued and edited, and now you want to give it one last going over--a proofreading--before sending it out to "the world," whether the world is your friend who's been asking to read the book, an agent, or all people who read and might buy your book.

Getting ready to send your work off is scary--you want it to be perfect--which means proofreading is kinda scary because you know someone will catch whatever mistakes you missed and let you know about them. So here are some secrets about proofreading to help you win the battle for an error-free story.

Here is the first thing you need to know about proofreading.

Half the battle is knowing your enemies.
The other half is being able to see them.
The other half is having the right weapons.

Knowing Your Enemies (or knowing what to look for)

When proofreading, pay attention to these three things:

–Language: grammar, usage, diction
–Egregious errors: confusing sentences, inconsistencies, and factual errors

Style You probably don't think about this when proofreading, but style is important, as it influences the look and feel of your manuscript. Is it consistent and professional or inconsistent and unprofessional?

For style, consider these areas:
–Headings all same style
–Capitalization of words consistent
–Spelling consistent for words with variable spellings
–Use of quotes and italics consistent
–Emphasis, quotes within quotes, sound words, etc., all styled the same

Some styles issues are governed by particular style guide or by personal choice rather than by hard-and-fast rules. So you need to match the proper style or decided on and stick to  your own.

For example:
–C.I.A. or CIA?
–Copy-editing or copyediting? 
–Gray or grey (the former is American while the latter is more typical in the UK)

Language Investigate grammar, usage, diction.
For language, consider these areas: 
–Correct word or phrase
–Numbers and numerals (written out or not)
–Use of contractions (easier to read contractions)
–Idioms understandable to intended audience?

For this section, you must slow down and question every word or phrase
– Is it ink stand or inkstand; under way or underway; into or in to?
– Is it it’s or its; were or we’re?
Iced tea or ice tea? (one of these is correct; the other is a misspelling)
–Effect or affect; if … was or if … were; who or whom?

Get comfortable with hyphenation
–“I have a one-year-old nephew” but “My nephew is one year old.”

Get used to using the dictionary and guides like Kathy Ide’s Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors frequently for spelling, usage, and hyphenation

Avoid repetition when it’s not intended for a particular effect
–"I tossed my heavy cloak onto my bed." vs "I tossed the heavy cloak onto my bed." 
That's an unimportant example, but get used to thinking about repeated words in sentences and paragraphs and across the entire manuscript. Do you overuse certain words or phrases? Like turned, looked, glared, raised an eyebrow?

Cut or replace extraneous words
–Being a gentleman, he stood up to give her his chair. She thanked him as she sat down.
–Light change: Being a gentleman, he stood to give her his chair. She thanked him as she sat.
–Heavier change: Ever a gentleman, he offered her his chair. She thanked him as she sat.
It was technically okay, but now it’s 14 words instead of 18 and sounds better

Don’t be too formal. Use contractions.

Consider spacing and white space. Only one space between sentences. Paragraphs shouldn’t be too long (intimidating) or too short (a lot of one-line paragraphs is considered overly dramatic) 

Read favorite authors and note how they do things

Spotting the Enemy: By Sight and Sound

Read v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y slowly

Read aloud or using text-to-speech program. This will help you
–Catch missing words (e.g., dropped the or a), words used twice, words often confused or mistyped (e.g., that and than)
–Gauge “rightness” and beauty of the writing

Pay special attention to line breaks (last word on one line and first word of next—easy for word repeats to happen here)

Use a pencil to guide the eye

Use a print out

Read from end to beginning or from bottom up of each page 
–Helps keep brain from reading into the story what it thinks is there (e.g., a missing a)

Make a list of words that are frequently misused or misspelled. Make a list of words you overuse and need to replace or cut

Read a page or so of Kathy Ide’s Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors or some other helpful book before starting to get yourself in an editing mindset

Let manuscript get “cold” before proofreading it

Expect to stop and look up words, phrases, hyphenation, and usage frequently

Break your time into small chunks so you won’t lose alertness and make mistakes

In short: Read slowly. Question every word. Read it aloud or listen to it.

The Right Weapons

Knowing where the rules or the guidelines are is essential, for your high school English teacher probably wasn't up on publishing standards, nor were your critique partners (we writers tend to think we know what we're doing and give both good and bad advice with great confidence). It's always best to go the source.

Here are some great references:

Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide. She gives summaries, common problems and trouble words, and references these in Chicago and AP.

Dictionary: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.

Style Guide (choose appropriate one):
The Chicago Manual of Style, Words into Type, The Associated Press Stylebook, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), or in-house style guides
–For book publishing: The Chicago Manual of Style
–For articles: The Associated Press Stylebook

Also, always use spellchecker but don’t rely on it. You can also use writing programs such as ProWritingAid or Grammarly.

Do you have any other tips for proofreading?


  1. Thanks for the thorough run-thru on proofreading! By the time the this stage comes around, I admit to being more lax than I should be. This is a great reminder to pay close attention to those final details.


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