Writing Tips: Proofreading

I’m currently finishing up a university degree in journalism, and I’ve been doing journalistic work for newspapers and radio alike for some years now. It’s a line of work wherein proofreading is essential. People are paying to read a piece you’ve written, which means you simply can’t allow for an article to be printed while it’s still half-finished; sans proofreading.

Even though proofreading might seem like a tedious task to some, I tend to think of it as the icing on the cake when it comes to creative writing as well—that final touch to perfect a piece of writing in order to make it even better. However, I’ve found that some roleplayers and writers seem to lack the tools to do so, perhaps as a result of not knowing what to look for.

So, here are a few tips on how to go about proofreading something you’ve written. Please note that this post was geared toward shorter pieces of writing, such as roleplay paras and short stories. When it comes to novels etc, you will probably need a professional to do the work for you.

Use a spell-checker

If your text editor doesn’t have a built-in one, you can find ones online as well, such as here, and here. Tumblr also has its own spell-checker, located between the link and read more buttons above your post editor. Keep in mind that a spell-checker will only reveal typos and errors in spelling, and while this is a good place to begin, more often than not you will have to go further than that.

Double-check your punctuation

Make sure you’re using commas, apostrophes and other forms of punctuation marks correctly, and beware of double or triple spacing (when someone types   like this, it tends to  be annoying and leaves  ugly holes in the running   text), as you should only use one space after each word or punctuation mark.

Double-check your word use

This is where a thesaurus and a dictionary come in handy. Make sure the words you’ve chosen have been used in the right context, seeing as you may sometimes think a word means something it actually doesn’t. Some synonyms may also have slightly different connotations or nuances, in spite of the meaning being essentially the same. It’s especially important you double-check more difficult words and words you don’t use that often. Commonly confused word pairs can also be tricky, so pay specific attention to those.

Look for missing words and odd sentence structures

Sometimes I will come up with a specific wording only to change my mind mid-writing—and once I proofread, I come to realize I’ve used half the original sentence combined with the ending I thought up for the new sentence. When changing one’s mind about a particular wording some words can get lost in the process or become jumbled up. This can sometimes be difficult to spot (especially since spell-checkers don’t pick up on it), but the only thing you really can do is to make sure all of your individual sentences make sense and that no important words have been left out.

Check your grammar

This bit goes hand in hand with checking your word use and punctuation and is perhaps the most difficult part of proofreading especially if you don’t have a good eye for spotting grammatical errors. Luckily this is something you will most likely become more skilled at once you become more well-versed at proofreading, but until then there are online grammar checkers available for you to use, such as here and here.

Beware of repeats

Repeating certain words or phrases can be a highly effective rhetorical tool when it’s done on purpose; however, when you do it unconsciously it can become highly annoying to the reader and also makes the text seem less fluent as it tends to introduce a pause. It’s not as big of a deal when it happens with words that are used all the time to form sentences or bind them together, but less commonly used or longer words can be problematic when repeated, as they are more noticeable to the eye. So be careful of using the same word several times in sentences following one another or even in the same paragraph. Use synonyms or a thesaurus check if you must, but an even better way of going about it is probably rewriting some of the sentences in order to avoid that choice of words entirely.

Check your sentence lengths

This quote by Gary Provost probably best describes what I’m trying to go for here. If you keep piling several sentences of about the same length after one another, your writing tends to become slightly monotonous and dull; not to mention how pauses are introduced where you might not intend for them to exist, in turn making the text more difficult to read. Try to vary the sentence lengths, and using long, short, and medium-length sentences mixed with one another.

Read, read, and read

I sometimes read through a piece of writing up to five times or more when proofreading. During the first read-through I spot maybe a few errors, and during the second, I spot such errors I missed during the first read-through. The risk of becoming blind to your own writing is rather prominent (which can be helped by asking a friend to read it, too), but don’t be afraid or too lazy to read your own writing more than once.

And finally; read aloud

I have found that the most effective way of noticing if something is amiss is reading the piece I’ve written aloud. It might seem a little ridiculous while you’re doing it, but it really does help you spot incomplete sentences, odd or difficult sentence structures, and pauses in awkward places.

Considering the vastness of the English language, there are probably a million other things you could try to look for as well; but I believe I’ve managed to cover the essentials. Keep in mind that this is simply what I try to do when it comes to proofreading and editing; you might not be as nitpicky as I am, which probably also means you will be happy with a less thorough proofreading session.

January 03 2013, 11:17 AM   •   1,640 notes
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    Exactly!
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