10 Quick Tips for Powerful Proofreading

Few writers would ever say proof-reading is fun. Although a good edit does little to invite party hats or balloons, it is essential to effective writing. Whether you are sitting down to write the great American novel or a landing page you hope will make all your dreams come true, a writer mustn’t only write, they must also make certain their words follow all the proper road signs of well articulated language.

Have you ever been reading a blog post or web copy so riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and faulty punctuation, that you immediately bounced from the site with barely a second thought? Bloggers need their readers and few online businesses can afford to be so careless. Proofreading is far easier when you have a system, or at the very least a simple set of rules to follow. Here are my ten quick tips for effective proofreading.

1. Wait. 

I always allow a bit of breath between the rough and the edit. This can be  as little as an hour, but it is often more than a day. Whenever I edit too soon, I find myself more focused on what I just wrote than I am at gathering errors. By allowing distance between rough draft and edit, you will approach your writing with fresh eyes, easily able to catch any errors.

2. Trim the fat. 

All writing has fat. Stephen King’s rule, which I rather like, is Final Copy = Rough Draft – 10%.

3. Embrace the quiet. 

Proofreading requires precision. I can write well, even with music in the background, my children juggling toys, and the neighborhood basketball game going into overtime right outside my window, but when it’s time to edit I require both time and quiet. Proofreading is diligent and detailed, and deserving of your focus.

4. Use color. 

Specifically, use a sheet of colored paper as a guide while you edit. This sheet will help you to keep your eyes fixed on the lines as you’re working, the colored paper will coax your creativity. If you don’t have colored paper, you can always use a ruler, but there’s something about a sheet of colored paper that seems to sweeten the senses.

5. Read your work out loud. 

I cannot stress this enough. Even if it’s just your own solitary voice bouncing against the walls of an otherwise empty room, you should ALWAYS read your work out loud. Reading out loud will help to highlight any errors, missing words or lapses in syntax you might have otherwise missed.

6. Press print. 

Don’t get cheap when it comes to the ink. A double spaced printed copy of your work is easier to edit. Reading on the computer screen is tiring on the eyes, and tired eyes always make the most mistakes.

7. Read backwards. 

My daughter thinks this one’s hilarious, but it works for me every time. When you read a document backwards, the sudden unfamiliarity of the copy will allow you to catch things you might have otherwise missed. If you’re simply giving your writing an edit, straight through from beginning to end, it is all too easy to fall into the same old rhythm and start reading with automaticity, forgetting entirely that you were supposed to be proofing.

8. Use colored ink. 

Your copy is in black, your corrections shouldn’t be. If you’ve already gone ahead and printed your work, good for you. Take it one step further and use a red or green pen to highlight your corrections.

9. Rest when needed. 

If you have a lot of copy to proof, you should make sure you’re resting your eyes every 10 to 15 minutes. Otherwise you will find yourself crashing right into the wall of diminishing returns.

10. Pass the copy. 

The last thing I do when I have important copy that requires perfect proofing, after I’ve done my best to give it green lights all the way, is pass the copy off to my partner. Sometimes even our most diligent efforts still benefit from a second set of eyes.

Proofing might not be a party, but it is imperative to powerful writing. Take the time to give your copy the care it deserves.