Proofreading Your Own Work

If you are a new author, you may consider ‘proofread’ and ‘edit’ to be interchangeable terms. They are not! Thproofreadingough there may be some overlap, in principle and action they are very different processes. For more information on editing see ‘Editing Your Own Work’.

The principle aim in proofreading is to check for spelling; punctuation; formatting and general grammar errors.

As anyone who has written for any length of time can tell you it is very hard to proofread your own work. Our brains have the habit of consistently recognising some errors as being correct, no matter how many times we read them. Does seem an oddity but nevertheless, no matter how much we would like to deny it, it is a fact. No doubt scientists have looked at this anomaly. Perhaps they have reached a conclusion as to why our minds behave this way. Nonetheless, for us whether they have or not is immaterial. We must accept the dilemma exists and learn how to overcome it as far as we may.

Naturally the best approach would be to employ the services of a professional proof-reader. Of course this comes at a cost: as with any profession a proof-reader needs an income and must accordingly charge for their services. The fee is usually assessed using one of three options: word count; page count; hours used. It can be pricy but we must bear in mind the use of their time, their professional status and their eyesight, which probably suffers in the long term.

However, despite acknowledging the employment of a professional is preferable, many simply do not have the resources. So, is there an alternative? Yes, there is. If you have them, ask trusted friends, colleagues, acquaintances and relatives to read through your manuscript, article, post. There is absolutely no doubt they will discover errors you have missed. Nevertheless, you have to accept even they will probably not pick up every single mistake.

There are a few who do not even have the advantage of such friends, etc. as mentioned above. So what can they do? Some suggestions follow:

  • Initially read through the original document at least twice.
  • Change the font.
  • Increase the font size.
  • Enlarge the reading size.
  • Use a different format.
  • Read the whole manuscript out loud to yourself.
  • Read it to others, if possible.
  • Use the computer narrator facility, if available.
  • Read a print copy.

Each method should be used to read through the manuscript again and again and again and again. It can be tedious and rather repetitive but most will want their work to be as good as it can be. This is part of that process. I would expect even those who employ a professional or utilize friends etc. will have gone through this process first. It would cut down on the amount of time others have to use and consequently, for those paying a fee, reduce the overall cost.

With regard to using a different format: Createspace, who I use for the publication of paperback editions of my books, offers readymade templates. These are simple to use; it is just a matter of pasting the text from your manuscript into them. The end result is a document in an entirely different format to those produced by using standard processing systems e.g. Microsoft’s Word; Apple’s Pages. Reading a manuscript in such an altered format does help identify errors previously missed.

Regrettably, as the majority of authors and writers will, or at least should, acknowledge, it is virtually impossible for a writer to pick up all their own errors. Remember we discussed how our brains may consistently see the same inaccuracy as correct. Nevertheless, by using the methods suggested above, it should be possible to spot the majority. But you must accept there will always be at least one or two you have missed. If it is any consolation, many ‘professionally’ published books and articles contain oversights.


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