How To Proofread Your Own Writing

Once upon a time,  many writers would create a rough draft manuscript and submit it, warts and all, to a very indulgent publisher.  The publisher would promptly hand off that rough draft to a professional proofreader, who would mark it up with all sorts of odd notations and symbols.  All of this proofreading would eventually lead to a finished manuscript free of all grammatical, stylistic and spelling errors.

With the advent of automated spell-checking and a backlog of manuscripts, however,  many editors now expect writers to submit error-free work from the start.  A writer could hire a professional editorial service to proofread his manuscript, but this can be a cost-prohibitive process.  It's often easier for a writer to proofread his own rough drafts before submitting them to editors or publishers.  Here are some tips on how to proofread your own writing.

  1. Take advantage of all electronic proofreading programs.  The spell-check and grammar check options on a standard operating system are not always foolproof or accurate, but they will catch the majority of common errors found in manuscripts.  If you don't like the results of a cursory spelling or grammar check, you may be able to find more advanced word processing programs with even more proofreading features.  Try several different electronic proofreading methods to make sure nothing has passed through unnoticed.
  2. Step away from your writing for a few days.  It is much more difficult to proofread work you have just finished.  You may be especially tired or too close to the work to be completely objective.  Consider proofreading an entirely different task than writing.  Put away the manuscript for at least a few days in order to gain a fresh perspective on it.  Some writers have been known to proofread their manuscripts while holding the pages upside-down and backwards.  This forces the proofreader to consider each word separately, not as a complete sentence.
  3. Assume you have made some mistakes.  A surprising number of writers rarely proofread their own work, because they are overly confident in their spelling or grammatical skills.  Proofreading is more than skimming over a perfectly worded document.  A writer should assume the manuscript will have at least a few minor mistakes, such as transposed letters or a missing punctuation mark.  Writing which may be free of spelling errors may still sit flat on the page.  Look for grammatical and style errors such as passive voice or repetitive transitions.
  4. Make sure you save all of your corrections in a new file.  Many times a writer will make a number of changes to a computer file while proofreading, but fail to properly save those changes.  It's possible to print out an uncorrected file by mistake if the writer fails to overwrite the original file with an edited version.  When proofreading on a computer, be sure to pull up the file and check it for errors before printing it out for submission.


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