Ask a Proofreader #1

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Last week, I put out a call for questions from readers, and I received this one:


My biggest struggle with proofreading is how to know a piece has been edited to its fullest potential and the desired meaning comes across. Generally I put the pieces down and come back to it after a few days to a week, but do you have any shortcuts or tips?

This is a fantastic question, and it’s something a lot of us writers and creative types struggle with a lot: how done is done, and how do you get to done more quickly?

By having a Process.

Taking a break from your piece is an excellent first step. You’re already on the right track! Once you’ve let your piece sit for a bit, then you should do a few thorough, methodical passes over the piece. A proofreading checklist can be a big help there, since it will ensure that you know what to look over next and what you have already checked.

Here is a basic proofreading checklist. Add or remove items as needed:

  • Problems you already know you struggle with
  • Grammar mistakes
  • Spelling mistakes and typos
  • Capitalization
  • Word choice issues
  • Punctuation problems (these can be very sneaky)
  • Clarity and flow
  • Style and consistency
  • Syntax issues
  • Repetition
  • Accuracy of information
  • Proper citations, if needed
  • Formatting and layout issues, if needed

Follow this by reading your piece aloud or having a computer or an app do it for you, reading it backward, and/or using a tool like Grammarly on it. Then, consider getting feedback from someone else. They might be able to spot problems you missed.

Feel free to do this Process in whatever order feels most natural for you. If you want to start using tech on it before you look over it yourself, go ahead. If you want to jump right into reading it out loud before taking on the checklist, that’s fine. If you need to skip a step, then hey, whatever works for you is what works for you.

Once you’re done with the Process part, it really does become a judgment call. You’ll have to decide if the piece meets your own approval or not—which is not easy to do, I know. But, at that point, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that you’ve dotted all of your proofreading Is and crossed all of your proofreading Ts before sending your piece on the next phase of its adventure, whatever that may be.

Thank you so much for sending this in! I hope my answer was helpful. If you need any more assistance, just let me know.

If anyone else has any questions, please, do ask! I’d love to help you out if I can. Either submit them in the comments or by email, and I’ll post my answers next Thursday.

While you’re here, would you like to know more about wrangling plot holes? Or would you like an experienced professional proofreader to take a look at your stuff? I’ll proofread up to 400 words of your writing for FREE!

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