Friday, May 10

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

This is a wonderful, must-read, article for anyone who has had trouble proofreading their own work: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Anna Lewis writes:
No matter how many times you’ve read through your work, it’s amazing how often errors can sneak through to the final stages. The problem: You’re so familiar with the text that you see what you think you have written rather than what you actually wrote.

That happens to me all the time. So, what can we do to catch all those pesky mistakes?

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Prose

1. Put your writing aside for as long as you can stand.

Stephen King says this, Chuck Wendig says this. Everyone I've ever read about writing says this. And, from my experience, it does help a lot. In the case of a book try to put it aside for at least a month, though I think a month and a half is better.

2. Know your weaknesses.

Every writer has weaknesses. Some of us are horrible spellers, some of us repeat phrases or overuse words. Some of us make certain kinds of grammatical errors. If you know what you're likely to do you can make a point of looking especially for that. (And, if you're getting a friend to go over your manuscript, you could mention your weaknesses to them as well.)

3. Read your work out loud.

Anna writes:
If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eyes may have missed. Alternatively, you can use text-to-speech software.
Reading one's work aloud is great, a must-do, but I think listening to someone (or something) read the text is useful as well. I do both.

4. Try proofreading backwards.

The first time I heard this advice I thought it was nuts, but the person who gave it to me was a professional and highly sought after proofreader so I tried it. It works! But it is time consuming. Anna suggests using this method for areas such as the cover text.

5. Keep style and usage handbooks readily available and use them!

Excellent advice. I like using digital copies because they're easier to search.

6. Watch out for contractions, apostrophes and homonyms.

7. Run a spell check.

But don't rely on the spell check. You need human eyes on your manuscript as well.

8. Highlight all punctuation marks so you can evaluate each one for accuracy.

9. Proofread a printed version of your work.

I'm like this, I can more easily catch errors in a printed copy than I can by reading from the screen. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone. Perhaps folks who grew up reading from screens won't have this bias.

10. Get someone else to proofread your manuscript.

No matter what you do it'll be harder for you to see what you've actually written as opposed to what you'd intended to write. Trading with writer friends--I'll proofread your manuscript if you proofread mine--can help.

Of course the best solution, and by far the easiest, is to find a good proofreader and pay them to work on your manuscript.

I've paraphrased a good deal of Anna Lewis' article, I'd encourage you to read it in the original: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Do you have a tip for catching errors in a manuscript?

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Smashing Sub-Genres
- Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice

Photo credit: "My Brush With Death" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. These are all great tips. Especially the first one. We indie authors are so dying to get that dam book up that I don't think we let it... ummm... 'mellow'? No. 'Ripen'? Nahhh... 'Germinate'? Hmmm... Okay... FESTER enough (I wanted to write "Ferment", but landed on Fester...

    One other point that I use. When my m/s is done, save as a seperate Word doc. Then change the font radically- like from Times Roman 12 to something out to lunch like Arial Bold 18... and then CHANGE THE FONT COLOR TO RED. The theory behind this is that the brain fails b/c of the color and type style to see it as its own stuff. I picked up a bunch of typos this way.

    Nahhh.... not my idea; but I only steal good stuff.


    1. Hi Desmond! Yeah, it's hard to let the darn thing sit for a week, let alone a month.

      In On Writing, Stephen King writes that he works on short stories between novels to help get the novel out of his mind and to keep his mitts off the manuscript.

      Thanks for the tip!

  2. Some good ideas here. I've tried the reading aloud one, and it's good. A bit time consuming though. (As I guess proofreading is!) Will have to try some of the others for my next proofread.

    1. Thanks Rinelle!

      Yes, proofreading takes a LOT of time. I think that alone is an excellent reason to get a professional to do it. I'm sure a proofreader would be quicker than I am and do a better job.

      That said, reading aloud does work. Strangely though--and I think this could just be me--it doesn't work as well for me as getting my work read to me. For some reason I have the tendency to type words that SOUND like the words that I want to type but, alas, are not them. (e.g., "me" rather than "be" and vice versa.)

  3. i love you. You sensed or saw online that I finished the first draft of a novel yesterday, and you posted this. You are an amazing blogger, and (I suspect) a wonderful human being.

    1. Awe! Thank you. :-)

      A BIG congratulations on finishing your novel! I know Dean Wesley Smith--who has written hundreds of novels--doesn't think of finishing one as an event, but if you've only (like me) done a few each one feels as though it was written in blood and you (or, again, perhaps this is just me!) want to strut through the streets shouting a variation on, "Yes, I finished it!"

      So, congrats. I hope you celebrated well. (grin)

  4. Karen,

    Thank you for this wonderful piece on self-editing. I once misspelled my own name in a piece and didn't catch it until the proofs came back from the publisher! You have offered some very easy to use tips...thank you!

    1. Dennis, thank you for your lovely comment. Typos are the bane of a writers existence! Yours made me smile. A refreshing way to start the morning.

      Now, off to have my first cup of coffee ...

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