It doesn’t matter who you are, it is possible to read the same passage over and over again and not see an error that is glaringly obvious to someone else as soon as they lay their eyes on it. Why? Our brains work in mysterious ways but quite often they choose to see what we think is written on the page and not what is actually there.
So here are 5 of my top tips to help proofread your own written work.
1. Take a break. Sounds odd, doesn’t it; but as mentioned above, sometimes your eyes will see something that just isn’t there. Take a break; grab a coffee; go for a walk. When you return you will see things from a new perspective and hopefully those errors will appear right before your very eyes.
2. Print it out. I am a little old-fashioned when it comes to much of what I proofread and like to handle paper instead of constantly looking at my laptop or computer screen. This kind of method is especially helpful when you are editing for context and swapping and switching paragraphs. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a bunch of arrows and red squiggles on a page I have just proofread. That way I know my work is really done.
3. Write first, edit later. I am definitely guilty of this one at times, but sometimes we have to let the proofreader sleep while the writer is in action. Tell yourself that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect - it just has to be done. Allow yourself permission to write work that may not necessarily be the best thing you have written. Once the work is complete then put your proofreading cap on and get to work.
4. More is not more. Unless you have a Charles Dickens’ type operation going on and are getting paid for every word you write, then the general rule of thumb is less is more. Unless you are looking to aim to a particular audience, in general they will not want to read flouncy, verbose text. Stick to the point and stay on track. That story may be interesting in the pub but if it doesn’t necessarily relate to what you are writing, leave it out!
5. Spell check. Even when you have thought you have done an efficient proofreading job, errors can still get overlooked. Use an electronic spell check for everything you do in order to minimise the errors you make. Simple errors can be a real turn-off for your readers – especially ones like me who abhor people who can’t get their apostrophes correct.
Mistakes happen – well all make them. But for the most part, especially when it comes to the online word, most errors can be amended. If you fail to notice them on publication, when they do decide to rear their ugly head just change them and move on. It’s definitely not worth losing sleep over.