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Catch More Mistakes with These DIY Proofreading Techniques

Pen and paper for proofreading

Employing a professional to do your proofreading for you is always the best option when it comes to putting that final high-class sheen to your work. But (reality being what it is) if you’re short on time or money, dealing with a complex piece of work, or have perhaps been thinking of becoming a freelance proofreader for extra income, doing your proofreading yourself could be a good place to start.

To help you come out on top more often than not, and avoid some common proofreading pitfalls, give these precision-boosting techniques a try when evaluating your work.


1. Let it breathe before proofreading

So you’ve laid down the final period in the very last paragraph of your work – and the temptation is strong to rush right back to the beginning and start editing (if you haven’t been doing that as you go). Alternatively, you might want to throw the manuscript in a drawer and never look at it again (been there, done that!).

In either case, it’s always a good idea to let the work breathe before you begin proofreading. Allow your writing palate a little time to cleanse itself, without letting so much time pass that you forget about it entirely. One to three weeks is a good bet, with a little more or less depending on the length or complexity of the work.

Some people like to do a proofreading pass before the first major edit, and then follow up later with another round. Others will leave proofreading to the side until the manuscript is in its final draft. It’s entirely up to you. Just remember to let it breathe each time, but don’t lose interest.


2. Read it out loud

One of the easiest ways to catch errant words, misspellings, or inadvertent tongue-twisters is by reading aloud when you start proofreading. You should, of course, also read the work silently to yourself, but reading aloud is an entirely different experience.

Act as though you’re recording an official audiobook edition of your novel, and not only will you pick up on more typos and technical mistakes, but you’ll also catch stretches where the prose just doesn’t flow correctly or doesn’t deliver the emotion or excitement for which you were aiming.

Go as far as recording your verbal narration and you can double up your proofreading efforts. That’s because our next tip is…


3. Listen to it

Reading your work aloud lets you experience it in a brand new way. Mistakes are often thrown into stark relief, and it’s far easier to discern flow and rhythm. Reading out loud when you’re proofreading is good, but getting a friend to do it is better. You can even do it online this way if you have some kind digital pals who don’t mind hopping on Skype for regular reading sessions.

There are, however, many free text-to-speech services, either software or web-based, which sound very human and can step in to help with proofreading – even if they aren’t explicitly advertised as such. Technology has the benefit of being unable to skim-read, so mistakes will sound out loud and clear.

If you’d rather not use a friend or text-to-speech, then take your own recordings and listen to them. Going from proofreading to prooflistening switches you from an active problem-hunting mindset to being a passive consumer of your own work (in as much as that’s possible), and can offer some true revelations and additional creative ideas during the proofreading process.

This means proofreading isn’t just about finding typos and extraneous words – it can also help highlight the need for additional final tweaks beyond the edit.


4. Change the font

Swapping out your Times New Roman for a fresh Georgia look will force your brain to read the text in a new light. This way, you’re more likely to pay attention and avoid involuntary skimming while you’re proofreading. And you can always change it back when you’re finished.

Sticking with the same style of printout or on-screen settings from start to finish for each of your proofing passes breeds familiarity, meaning you’re much more likely to unconsciously take shortcuts through the text. Your brain naturally fills in the blanks of what it knows (expects) to be there – even if it’s wrong. Dramatically switching the visuals knocks you out of that state, almost as if you’re encountering the writing for the first time.

If you can’t find a font you’re comfortable with, try changing the background colour of your screen or the size of the text instead, for a similar helpful impact on your proofreading efforts.


5. Load it onto your Kindle

If you have a Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader, your gadget will generally allow you to transfer files from your computer. So why not load up your manuscript and get down to some on-the-move proofreading?

Kindles have their own fonts, allow various text sizes and offer other formatting quirks, so your work will look radically different and give you fresh insight. Plus, if the story is destined for self-publishing, you could get a whole new perspective on the reading experience by seeing your book as others will. At the end of the day, this is all about making sure your book is a product that delivers for the end user – and that means proofreading digitally is an absolute no-brainer.

Check out Calibre for an excellent method of manually loading content onto your reader.


6. Do your proofreading backwards

According to the professionals, this is a tried and true method of making your brain think differently about the text when proofreading. Don’t read every word in reverse order, just every sentence or paragraph. By turning the content on its head, you’re isolating each portion of the writing, and interrupting your sense of what “should” come next.

The result? You spot mistakes more easily!

You may find you don’t need all of these techniques to get into a good proofreading flow. In fact, it might be best if you choose one at a time, and make several passes – but don’t forget to let the work breathe in between!

Do you do your own proofreading? Have you tried any of these techniques? Which is your favorite? Let us know all about it in the comments!


Join the Discussion on “Catch More Mistakes with These DIY Proofreading Techniques”

  1. Letting it breathe helps a lot. Reading aloud helps with rhythm not finding mistakes for me because I know what the word is supposed to be so it’s easy to your when what is actually on the screen is you. I love reading backwards, but it gets tedious with a large manuscript. I’m gonna try changing the font size and color.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Thanks, Tracy. Weird font and colour combinations really throws you off, so that’s definitely one to try for the added focus. Hope you find it useful! Nice observation on the reading aloud part, too – you’re quite right, when you’re so used to the text it can be easy to read right over typos. One for the earliest proofing stages, that.

  2. Adam says:

    Good article.
    But I didn’t see Scotch on the list.


    1. AutoCrit says:

      Knew we forgot something, Adam! Haha!

  3. Robert Ronning says:

    Good tips. Yes, thanks for reminding me about font changing–it helps. I just resurrected a piece I’ve let breathe for five years. I’m sure it had electronic cobwebs, plus, it was an earlier version of MS Word. Thanks!

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Robert, and best of luck with the piece! Always interesting to see how far along you’ve come when you revisit something so old, and how your mind suddenly comes alive with new ideas to introduce to it.

  4. Petra Bosse says:

    These were great suggestions and I will definitely try a couple. With the ridiculous cost of professional editing, all suggestions are welcome. One thing I also do is edit on a printed copy as well as the screen. Keep the great tips coming. Petra

    1. AutoCrit says:

      We should probably add that one in, these days, Petra – also proof on paper!

  5. Bonnie says:

    These techniques are good ones. I’ve tried some of them but the idea of changing font or background color makes a lot of sense. I proofed my first novel 13 times and still kept finding mistakes. That was before I knew about auto-crit. I used your free version, which was excellent, and learned a lot about writing from that. There is so much to learn about writing thatI am still learning. I’ve written three novels and co-authored two short story collections. Thanks for these tips. I shared the information.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Keep up the good work, Bonnie!

  6. Chris says:

    Some good points there. I tend to proof read as I go, then do it again before my editor gets his grubby hands on it. There’s usually still the odd typo that creeps through though, especially if there’s anything the editor wants re-written. Proof reading any new stuff is vital, both before and after passing it back to the editor because by that point, we’re both pressing for getting it out into the big bad world. That’s why my publisher always publishes the e-book edition of anything first, then waits a couple of weeks before releasing any print edition. If there are any lingering cock ups, they usually get picked up by then, often by one of his own authors. The occasional typo can appear as if by magic when material is sent through cyberspace… particularly if different techs are being used (Mac v Windows… different versions of Windows… different WP packages etc.). Even the mighty Amazon have ‘changed’ text and punctuation during formatting.

    1. AutoCrit says:

      Always the worst when it ends up in there and you KNOW it wasn’t there when you sent the final copy off, isn’t it?!

  7. Great tips. I have used several of these techniques and they work. I always put it through AutoCrit to help get rid of my nasty habits such as using passive vs. active, telling not showing, pace, sentence variation, etc. Then when I send it to a professional, their time is spent more on punctuation and typos and looking at the overall story line. With my first book I read through my book so many times I thought it would never get published. But it did. My second book is on its second round of edits and I decided to use AutoCrit early on, before I send it to Beta readers. I want to eliminate my bad writing habits so they can concentrate on the characters and plot!

  8. John Hansen says:

    I have learned to read my work out loud to myself for some time now. You’re absolutely right – hearing it highlights mistakes my eyes miss. I never thought listening to someone else read it out loud, but that’s a great idea too. The idea of reading it backward is intriguing; I will have to try it.

  9. Min Kyu Kim says:

    Thanks for such an informative article. As a Writer, I usually look for professional proofreading services. Now going forward I’m looking to proofread my work on my own that could save me some money. I believe these tips would certainly help me when I sit out to proofread my writ.

  10. Tasha Lewis says:

    Thank you for providing a clear and concise approach to what can be a daunting task for writers!

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