How to Proofread Your Own Work

Learning how to proofread is just as essential for writers as learning how to structure a story or write dialogue.

It’s always going to be best practice to get someone else proofread your work. That fresh pair of eyes will usually be able to see things an author will miss in revising their own work. But here in the real world, it’s not always possible to have someone else proofread your work and there are times when you might need to rely on your own proofreading skills to get your work finished.

Here are some ideas on how to self-check your own work.

proofreading self editing

Finish Writing

When you’re at the nuts and bolts final proofreading stage, it’s best to have your piece of work complete. That way you can focus on the technicalities of writing rather than still having your mind caught up in whether or not your character descriptions are spot on or wondering if your plot might work better in a different order.

Put the Piece Aside

After you’ve finished writing, put your story aside. Lock it in a drawer (real or metaphorical) and just forget about it. Do something else. Write something different. Watch a movie. Go to the gym. Brush your dog. Get your brain as far away from that piece of work as you can for at least 24 hours and preferably a few days.

Read it Out Loud

Reading your work out loud is another way to force your brain into a new perspective that will help you pick up on things you might otherwise miss.

Reading out loud is slower, so you’re more likely to see the words as you go rather than skim. Reading out loud also lets you hear the sound of the words, helping you to adjust tones and rhythms of sentence structure. Read slowly. Pretend you’re reading to an audience. I’ve written more about why reading aloud is a great editing step in this post.

Make a Hard Copy

Different people say different things about screen reading vs paper reading, but I always find I read better on paper. I proofread better on paper too. If anyone knows the science behind why (as I know I’m not the only one to think this), please share.

Blind Reading, Word by Word

Take a piece of paper and cover up everything on the page except the first line. Take another piece, or your finger and cover up every word on that line except the first. Now read, word by word.

Read Backwards

Reading your document backwards is yet another way to slow your brain into looking at every word and every sentence rather than skimming. Starting from the last sentence, read every sentence until you reach the beginning. This will enable you to check every sentence for good structure and correct punctuation and easy to miss mistakes.

Know What You’re Looking For

Most writers have an innate knowledge of grammar and spelling (often grown from reading a lot). That said, it still pays to brush up the technical basics… even if you’re a writer who likes to play fast and loose with style and grammar.

There are two books every writer needs on their shelf:


The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White

The classic manual of English, a must read (and must constantly refer back to) for writers of all ilk.

 

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

More than just a style guide, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is an in depth and often quite funny study on the history and use of punctation.

I use some, not all of these proofreading methods, but I’ve tried them all at least once. Once we’ve been writing for a while, we start to fine tune the methods that work best for the way we work. That said, I’m always open to new suggestions on how to self-proofread. Do you have any tips on how to proofread your own work?

Kate Krake
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Kate Krake

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy series Guessing Tales. Kate blogs about popular culture, health, wellness and creative writing. She lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles. Find out more on www.katekrake.com.
Kate Krake
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