Tips for Proofreading Your Manuscript

Liz Dempsey~ By Liz Dempsey

Well done to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo, no matter how far into the process you made it. If you managed to get a whole book drafted, then you’re now at the stage of revising your work—either for a second draft, or in order to send it to your editor. Here are some tips to help you see your manuscript with fresh eyes and catch those embarrassing mistakes we all make. Bear in mind that proofreading your own work can be challenging. Your over-familiarity with your story may mean that you tend to skim over the words when reading it. Many errors can be overlooked, as you often read what you meant to write, rather than what you actually wrote. 

In saying that, if you work out a system based on the guidelines below, you’ll catch a lot of the mistakes that inevitably slip into your work. Just remember that proofing your own work isn’t a substitute for using a professional editor and proofreader. But if you follow these steps before handing your manuscript over to them, you will be presenting them with a more polished piece that requires much less work. This can mean savings for you, as their charges will be lower.

So here are some tips to get you on the right track with proofreading. I hope you find them helpful.

  • It’s hard to proofread a manuscript that you’ve just finished. Put your writing aside for a while—a few hours, or even a few days—to allow yourself to look at it with fresh eyes. Alternatively, give it to a trusted friend. Someone reading the manuscript for the first time is more likely to spot mistakes.
  • Try reading it in a different medium. If you’ve become used to reading it on your computer screen, print it out, or send it to an e-reader. Then you’ll be looking at your manuscript in a different way.
  • Altering the layout and look of your manuscript, changing font size, spacing, or style of the text, can trick your brain into thinking it’s seeing an unfamiliar document, which can give you a different perspective on your writing.
  • Find a quiet place where you can concentrate and avoid interruptions or distractions.
  • Take frequent breaks. Your concentration will start to wane if you try to proofread your entire manuscript in one sitting.
  • Know your weaknesses (perhaps keep a list). If you have certain errors you know you often tend to make, take extra care to search for these. Use the search function to look for the most obvious mistakes you’re likely to make.
  • Read slowly, and read every single word. Try reading out loud, or have your computer read it to you using a text-to-speech converter.
  • Don’t rely on spelling and grammar checkers. They are handy tools, but they miss many issues. They do serve a purpose, but it’s important that you recognize their limitations.
  • Proofread for only one thing at a time. It’s easier to catch punctuation and spelling mistakes if you aren’t checking for grammar errors at the same time.  Edit the big stuff first, the small stuff second. Make the big changes and adjustments to your story, and then check the spelling and sentence structure afterwards. Check the formatting last of all.
  • Highlight every punctuation mark. As you do this, ask yourself if the punctuation is correct.
  • Read your manuscript backwards. This technique is helpful for checking spelling. Because content, punctuation, and grammar won’t make any sense, your focus will be entirely on the spelling of each word.
  • Keep style guides, reference books, and dictionaries close at hand to check as you go.  If you’re unsure of something, or if it looks wrong but you’re not sure why, check it by looking it up.
  • Don’t edit and proofread forever. This is an important stage, but it’s one you need to get through reasonably quickly. Do the best job you can to make your manuscript presentable, then hand it over to a professional editor and proofreader, whose job it is to make your work even better.

Good luck with your edits. I hope you get a wonderful book out of your NaNoWriMo experience. Feel free to contact me if you need any more advice, or if you’d like me to assist you with editing or proofreading your manuscript.

Liz Dempsey (The Error Eliminator)

My name is Liz. I am a single mother of one wonderful daughter. I work part-time in education administration, and in my spare time I love to read!

As a self-confessed perfectionist, I pay attention to detail and I take great pride in my ability to spot mistakes in the books that I read. I have many years of experience working on fiction and corporate writing. Although I’m based in New Zealand, I am comfortable working with US/UK/AU/NZ spelling and grammar. If you would like to work with me, please get in touch with a sample of your work for a free quote.

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