Sunday, January 16, 2011


Recently, I had a professor critique a mystery I’ve been trying to get published. I’ve been working on this mystery for over four years. I’ve read it, re-read it, had others read it, and still there were omissions of punctuation. Nothing major, but still omissions nonetheless.

So, I set out to find some helpful tips about how to find those buggers before it hits the publishers’ desk. I thought I’d share them with you.

1. Always print your manuscript out in its entirety: Reading it on the screen is very different than reading a hard copy. Pull out a ruler and cover preceding sentences so your eyes are totally focused on one sentence at a time thereby making it easier to catch errors.
2. Read it twice: The first time, read it slowly to make sure the sentence makes sense and you haven’t left anything out. Read the second time for grammatical or structural errors. Now I know some of these manuscripts are pretty long, so doing this in increments is a good rule of thumb to follow.
3. Pay special attention to edited sentences: Oh yeah, on this one. I always reread an edited sentence on my monitor to see if it makes sense, but again, reading it from a hard copy is as if my printer has jumbled the words when no one was looking. It’s amazing how different the reading is in hard copy.
4. Reading your sentences backwards: This works extremely well for picking up errors. Interestingly, I know this method, and yet I haven’t applied it to my own work. Hmm, I’m seeing a pattern here.
5. Read your manuscript from the bottom up: This method actually works best for grammatical and technical errors, not so much for content or organization.
6. Finally, grab a partner and read aloud from the computer while the partner is following from the hard copy. This is a double win making it easier for you to edit your work at the same time.

What methods do you use for proofreading?


Sheila Tenold said...

Good post, Carolyn, thank you. It makes perfect sense to proofread a printed copy of your finished manuscript. I’ll add this final step to my editing list!
When editing, I print out each chapter and find most of my mistakes. Before that I audio-record the chapter on my PC, play it back and highlight problem areas on the screen. I know this takes time but your ear is a great editing tool which helps identify awkward sentences. As a bonus you hear the overall cadence.

Jill James said...

I proofread by reading outloud. Amazing the mistakes or run on sentences you find.

Mona Risk said...

Carolyn, I convert my ms in adobe pdf file and have my computer read it out loud to me. it's an amazing tool that anyone can use. I caught a lot of missing words and repetitions by this method.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Good post, Carolyn. I read each chapter aloud from a printed copy before forwarding to my critique group. I really like the audio ideas from Sheila and Mona. :)

Joan Leacott said...

I also convert the document so the computer reads it out for you. With the MS and the read-back windows open side-by-side on my computer, I follow along as "Silicone Sally" speaks. I use the free MS Reader that comes with MS Word for the conversion. The other tool I would never do without is Autocrit. I can't tell you how many clumsy and overused words and phrases this catches.

Joanne said...

Great tips, as always. I can't believe the number of mistakes I catch on the second, third, and even fourth read. I've found the best way for me is to let the work "cool" for at least a month (some say a year) and print it out to read.