Proofreading is an art, a science and a challenge.
At first glance, it’s a simple proposition. Read your manuscript to ensure there are no mistakes before you send it off to be submitted or published.
But, as any experienced proofreader will tell you, there are pitfalls along the way.
For that reason, the very best thing that you can do to ensure your manuscript is proofread to perfection is to get someone else to do it for you.
These tips can also apply to any business documents.
Fresh eyes are essential when it comes to picking up typos, in particular. If you have written the manuscript, structurally edited the manuscript, then copy edited the manuscript, you will no longer see the errors.
You see what you expect to see.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to bring someone else in, so these are my top tips for maximising the effectiveness of your proofread.
1. Print it out
If you’ve done all your editing to date on screen, this is the moment to read your words on paper. But even if you’ve been working on paper previously, print it out for the proofread. It allows you a different perspective on your words.
2. Get away from your desk
I do all my proofreading away from the place I write. Again, it’s about looking at your words in a different way. Choose a place with really good light so that your eyes don’t get fatigued.
3. Use a blank sheet of paper
When I was a cadet journalist, my editor taught me to proofread using a blank sheet of paper to block out everything under the line you are reading. It allows you to focus specifically on the words in front of you and stops your gaze from skipping ahead.
4. Read the page forwards – then read it backwards
Reading it forwards allows you to ensure context and fluency – reading it backwards makes you focus on every single word, ensuring no typo escapes.
5. Don’t overlook the fine print
When the type is small, our brain fills in gaps for us, giving us meaning but not necessarily picking up missing words and spelling mistakes. Blow the fine print up on a screen or scale it up on your printer if you have to, but give it the same attention you give the main type.
6. Pay particular attention to the BIG type
Everyone overlooks the chapter headings and the title pages. We think that headlines are too big to fail. They’re not – the mistakes are just more obvious once they’re printed. And, yes, I speak from experience. Give the big type the same treatment as the small.
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently editing her latest middle-grade novel The First Summer of Callie McGee. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.