Proofreading: How to Develop an Eagle Eye for Your Own Writing

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As writers, one of the toughest things we will ever do is proofread our own work. If you’ve spent days or even weeks working on one piece, it can be easy to form an emotional attachment to it, especially certain words and turns of phrases that you invented. It can be difficult to look at your work objectively and let go of that emotional attachment. It can be difficult to pick up a red pen and circle misspelled words, typos and grammar mistakes. But proofreading is a necessary evil, like having a tooth pulled that’s been aching for days.

One of the most important skills a writer can ever learn is proofreading. Most experts believe proofreading can help you become a better writer. Some writers aren’t necessarily good proofreaders however. To improve your proofing skills and develop a keen eagle eye to spot pesky errors, follow these proofreading tips.

1. Set the work aside. If you’ve been working on a piece nearly non-stop for several days or weeks, your eyes have probably grown tired of looking at the words on the page. When you believe your piece is complete, set it aside before proofreading it. Give your eyes a rest. When you return, you can review your work with a clear head. Chances are, you’ll pick up mistakes more quickly.

2. Proof a hard copy rather than on a screen. Granted most of your work was done on the computer. That’s fine. But when it comes to proofreading your own work, I’ve always found it easier to review everything on a printed page. The printed page is easier to read and you are more likely to catch errors. You don’t always catch errors when you see them on the laptop screen. So print out your piece before proofreading.

3. Make several proofing passes. During each pass, focus on a different problem. Experts at Ragan Communications suggest reading for the overall message during the first pass. Subsequent passes will focus on sentence structure, grammar and syntax, spelling and work choices and so on.

4. Read it out loud. Reading the piece silently is one thing, but reading it out loud can help you determine sticky points in the content. Do you stumble over certain, difficult pronunciations?  Are some sentences overly long and complex? Reading out loud alerts you to trouble spots you may not have noticed before. Additionally, you can try reading the piece backwards, which forces you to focus on each word one at a time.

5. Have someone else proof your work. If you have difficulty separating yourself from your work, it might help to have another set of eyes look at it. That’s especially important for something like an email marketing piece or website content that will eventually be viewed by hundreds or thousands of readers. Another reader can confirm whether your words say what you intended.

6. Proof every version of your story. Wix Content blog suggests proofreading each version of the story as you write them. For example, if you’ve written five versions of your essay or feature article, be sure to proofread it each time you complete a new version. This might seem like overkill, but with each new editing pass, more errors can be introduced. Proofreading helps to avoid those errors.

7. Double check names. If you mention names of people, places, and products in your piece, make sure to spell them correctly. Especially double check company names as companies tend to merge with others or go through a rebranding phase, thus precipitating a name change.

8. Check spelling and punctuation. It’s okay to use a spellchecker to initially scan your work – it can certainly pick up some misspelled words – but don’t rely on it, say experts at Ragan Communications. The spellchecker doesn’t pick up everything and can’t discern the correct uses of some words, such as where and wear. Make sure you keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy too in case you need to look up a word’s meaning or spelling.

9. Check for accuracy. If you interviewed subject matter experts for your work, make sure you send them a copy to review before publication. Ask them to double check the spelling of their name too so it appears correctly. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending out work that contains outdated, or unconfirmed and unsubstantiated information.

10. Double check links. If you’re reviewing copy for an online publication and your piece contains links to outside references, double check those links before posting it. Your editor or employer will thank you that you’ve taken the time to do that.

Whether writing is your career or your passion, understand that proofreading comes with the territory. When you follow some or all of these proofreading tips, your writing will shine with clarity and accuracy.

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