As you proofread your manuscript, there are several things you can do to make your process easier. Here are a few commonly recommended tips:
Print a copy of the novel and mark it up.
Having a hard copy in front of you allows you to work with your draft on something other than your laptop or desktop screen. You’ll want your printout to be double-spaced so you have plenty of room to make edits.
Be consistent in your marks.
A question mark might indeed convey the appropriate emotion when you find passages that don’t make sense, or where the pacing drags, or where there’s a glaring plot hole or a character who seems to act out of character. But a question mark doesn’t really help you recognize one problem from the next when looking back over your notes. Be specific and consistent in your marginalia, coming up with a clear method for identifying and distinguishing types of problems you encounter. You’ll of course want to keep a legend of some sort to help you keep the marks straight. Or, you might want to include these in the master document you make below.
Make a style guide.
Create your own proofreading checklist on Microsoft word or google docs or some other word processing program and follow these guidelines every time you proofread your writing. Keep a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make and then refer to that list each time you proofread.
Publishers always create a style guide in which they make clear the stylistic, structural, and occasionally substantive needs for the project. You might want to make a master guide of your own, divided into different word spellings (like there their and they’re) that many people have difficulty distinguishing between.
If you don’t feel confident creating your own style guide, there are lots of great style handbooks that can help clear up questions, such as whether a certain word is capitalized, or if you need to hyphenate a specific phrase or adjective.
Developing your own stylebook can enhance your database of writing knowledge!
Keep track of problems as they occur to you.
If you realize some problem or inconsistency in the novel, though it’s not part of the proofreading process, you’re currently working on, don’t file it away in your head and promise to come back later; find an appropriate place on your style guide to note the problem immediately, while you still recognize and understand what the problem is.
Keep a sharp mind during this proofing stages and keep a good attitude. Revision shouldn’t be considered drudge work or punishment for writing a novel. It is an opportunity to see your work in a new way. Remember that by now you have rewritten this draft several times and that your vision of the story has been sharpened and is getting closer to the perfect volume you wanted to create from the beginning.
Give it a rest.
If time allows, set your text aside for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember the perfect paper you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.
- Look for one type of problem at a time.
Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation.
- Read your text aloud.
Or better yet, ask a friend or colleague to read it aloud. You may hear a problem (a faulty verb ending, for example, or a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.
- Use a spellchecker.
The spellchecker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and many other common slip ups–but it’s certainly not goof-proof.
- Trust your dictionary.
Your spellchecker can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary (or our Glossary of Commonly Confused Words).
- Read your text backward. Another way to catch spelling errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.
- Watch for punctuation!
- Look for repetition
A common mistake that new authors make is repetition with a certain word or phrase. So watch for repeated word use, and utilize a thesaurus to find other means to relate what you have to say as needed.
Keep an eye on the big picture
When it comes to editing, be consistent!
Watch for errors that can pop up throughout the book, such as a different tense or style that may seem jarring and out of place if it contradicts with the rest of your writing style. Add this to your personal style book!Above all else, ask for help!
You don’t have to go it alone! Ask a teacher, utilize high level and strategic coaching, or enlist the help of a partner publisher.
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