Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2015. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)
As writers, we all know the importance of proofreading.
Without it, your text looks sloppy and unfinished and can lead the reader to stop reading. However, what’s the best way to go about this challenging yet vital step in the writing process?
There’s no foolproof formula, and mistakes are bound to come up, but I’ve tried to make it easier for you by compiling these tips to simplify the process:
1. Use a spell-checker. A spell-checker can help you find repeated words or typos, preventing a tedious or error-ridden manuscript. However, remember that it is not always 100 percent reliable Don’t make the mistake of writing martial where you meant marital or, worse, orgasmic instead of organic—now, that would be awkward.
2. Look for one type of problem at a time. Read through the full text several times, but don’t tackle everything at once. Read first for overall message; then for sentence structure, grammar and syntax; then for word choice and spelling; and finally for punctuation. This way you are much more likely to find and fix the mistakes.
3. Unsure of how you can best find spelling errors? Read your text backward, singling out each word.
4. Unsure of the correct spelling or meaning of a word? Check the dictionary and/or a thesaurus.
5. Are there any recurring mistakes? Keep a list of such words, and do an extra check of your writing for these specific errors using the “find” function.
6. Read your text in print. Review it line by line, and mark mistakes with a red pen. The different format might help you catch things you might not have otherwise seen. If you usually use this method, consider printing in a different font or with different margins to, once again, see your work in a new way.
7. Read your piece out loud—or let a friend or relative read it out loud for you—so can hear certain problems you might not see on the computer screen or printed paper. You can also record yourself and then listen to the recording. You are much more likely to find a missing word—or a repeated one—when reading it out loud, and you might hear it more easily if a sentence does not flow well or a wrong word has been used.
8. Give it a rest. Set your work aside for a few hours—or even days if you can—and then look back at the work with new eyes. This way you are more likely to see what you’ve actually written, rather than what you want to see or how you originally envisioned it.
9. Have someone else read your work. Fresh eyes will provide new insights. However, make sure the person is open to being critical (you don’t want the unhelpful “that’s great, don’t change anything”) and that you are open to the criticism. (There’s no use in having anyone else review your writing if you refuse to make adjustments.)
10. Plan to make changes. Don’t think your first draft will be your last, because it will not. Even if it takes extra time and energy, make sure you make the required changes to bring your piece to its full potential.
Hanne Arts is the author of the novel “Just Perfect.” A version of this article originally ran here.