Proofreading Your Work

Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately.  I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.

A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents.  You can’t afford not to.  Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.

Spell Check

This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on.  It underlines misspellings in red.

If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything.  You then have the option to correct.  Make sure you’re picking the right word!

Spell Check is a first line of defense.  The feature won’t catch everything.  If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok.  The last one is a real word.

A typo I make frequently is form instead of from.  I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.

When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis.  It helps to make a list and keep it handy.  You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.

Look at it in hard copy

Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting.  As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.

The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen.  It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page.  E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.

I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better.  I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself.  If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes.  Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.

Have someone else look at it

This is especially good for novels.   Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore.  You know it too well.  It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.

Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.

Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too.  I saw this sign at the grocery store today:

Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.


Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc.  are correct.

Google it

Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling?  When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing.  That’s pretty damn good.

Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong.  Try Chrome’s Google page.  If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff.  Your laptop will probably have a mike.   Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.

Look it up in the dictionary

 Most references are online now, at pages like,, and more.  However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college.  You may still have it.  Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.

Use the library

 If you can’t find something online, you can try the library.   There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject.  University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.

Haven’t been in the library since grade school?  Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid?  Never fear, little boomer.  The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.

Check and recheck your work.  You’ll be glad you made it a habit.  It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.

4 thoughts on “Proofreading Your Work

  1. I have always had a problem with editing my own work. Spell checker and grammar checker only go so far. What I find absolutely necessary is to either have someone else act as a proofreader/editor, or to let the piece sit for a few hours and come back to it. This time off lets me view the piece fresh and in a different mindset. I can usually find all my errors if I have the time to do this. I think that patience and not rushing are the key.

  2. My Publisher put two — count ’em TWO — editors on my book, and since you’ve started reading it, I’m sure you’ve noticed the number of small typos they left in. Their work was very, very lazy. AND, they rushed me through that entire process.

    Realizing that this is possibly a common occurrence in the publishing industry, I knew I had to institute my own personal fail-safe.

    I’ve written 4 books total. And I’ve always gone over each chapter three times and then the entire manuscript in one long reading two more times, before beginning the submission process. But since having this embarrassing experience, I have additionally started the practice of printing my pages to PDF, and using that variance in presentation to run another last minute check for errors. Even reading much of it aloud, as you said. I picked that up after seeing Steven King read part of something on CSPAN’s “Bookspan” back in 1996 or ’97.

    Appears to be working, judging by the final pages. And I no longer have to worry about relying on two very lazy people; which is a relief.

    • Yes that’s something most writers don’t think about when they publish their first book. Since I’ve been reading more about the industry (which ANYONE seeking to publish should do), it’s painfully obvious that they’re suffering the same economic downturn that most companies are these days. That means the old days of the nurturing editors are gone.

      And as Anne Mini and others point out, YOU are responsible for editing your own work. Agents and editors simply don’t have time to hand-hold. It’s part of mastering your craft to learn to edit, and a clean (and properly formatted) manuscript is much more likely to catch a screener’s eye than the messes they typically get. Anything you can do to get Millicent (Anne’s word for them) to look at your pages increases your chances.

      Printing out your work in hard copy and going over it that way means you’ll find many, many things you wouldn’t notice on a screen. I put mine in a 3-ring binder (but DON’T submit this way!) and peruse them at lunchtime. There are a ton of useful books about editing. *Self-Editing for Fiction Writers *by Renni Browne and Dave King helped me enormously. Amazon has it for an affordable price. I especially liked the highlighter tip.

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