5 Quick Proofreading Tips That Have Massive Payoffs

5 Quick Proofreading Tips That Have Massive Payoffs

Have you ever been afraid of editors thinking you haven’t proofread your piece, even when you definitely have?

Do you re-read your posts ad nauseam, only to still feel a sense of dread when sending  your draft?

Yeah, proofreading isn’t fun.

Writing comes with a creative payoff. Editing gives you an authority edge. But proofreading? It’s tedious, boring and never feels like you’re doing it right.

The problem with proofreading is that we seldom look past grammar and spelling.

Sure, we read through guidelines and try to follow certain styles, but that’s about it. In fact, on a surface level, those do sound like the only things you could do.

Otherwise you’d just be aimlessly rewriting, no?

Well, what if I told you there’s another level — or five — to proofreading?

This might sound like we’re entering editing territory, but I promise you we aren’t. This deeper proofreading is still an incredibly contained system, meaning you won’t feel tempted to rewrite everything (as often happens when you edit your own work).

These five steps are genuinely quick and painless, but the payoff will be massive.

1. Hidden spelling and grammar mistakes

While we’re all fond of squiggly lines, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily reliable.

Word processors can miss language nuances, like a mix-up between “where” and “were” or “in” and “on.”

Catching these blunders is easier when you’re actively on the lookout for them.

Some recommend reading a post backwards. Others suggest reading the piece out loud (preferably the next day). Both are great moves. I’d also add running your post through multiple processors — maybe Word and Google Docs, for example.

In my experience, one spellchecker will often pick up  what the other might have missed.

2. Unintended repetition

Repetitive adjectives, adverbs and even verbs are a commonly overlooked factor for writers.

This phenomenon isn’t as pervasive when the piece is short, and you’re writing it in one sitting. However, when you’re writing long-form or returning to a piece you started working on hours or days prior, you often forget your pre-existing arsenal of words.

You can start by using the “find” feature on Word or Google Docs (Command+F/Ctrl+F) to see how many times you’ve used a specific phrase.

The reader can tell when you use the same adjective. It makes them stop and question if they’re re-reading the same line or if you accidentally duplicated a paragraph. Your reader’s undivided attention could be just a synonym away.

3. Loss of voice

You know how they say reading is the best writing teacher (or something along those lines)?

I’m not saying you’ve been lied to, but I am saying that sometimes your favorite writer — or a motivating post — can creep their way into your writing. Inspiration can turn into mimicking, so make sure your writing retains its unique flow.

If you want a sort of measuring stick for loss of voice, try reading out loud a line from the beginning and a line from the end. Do they sound like they were written by the same person (you)?

If they do, compare to a line from the middle.

If they don’t match, don’t panic. All you have to do is re-read from start to finish. Trust me, you’ll be able to tell where it all went wrong.  

4. Generic lines

A similar issue is relying on conventions of the genre. Be it a sci-fi novel, a post for a yoga blog or a poem for your lover: don’t fall prey to the siren’s call of clichés.

Not sure what I’m talking about?

Generic lines sound like everything you’ve ever read before. They usually contain buzz words and try to incorporate a lot of jargon. The problem is: they aren’t genuine, and usually don’t say a whole lot.

Nine times out of 10, all you have to do is pluck out these filler sentences. Removing them will not only alleviate your writing from the perils of inauthenticity, but will also make the finished product cleaner and more concise.

5. Run-on arguments

Nothing kills like overkill.

Every topic has a built-in stretch meter (AKA how long you can rant about it before running out of things to say). When you’re proofreading, double-check that you haven’t exceeded the mark.

Do your final paragraphs sound pretty much the same? Consolidate them into one.

You can also avoid rambling by assigning a specific detail or argument to each of your paragraphs. If you limit each sentence to their unique purpose, it’ll become that much harder for an idea to appear more than once.

Will these five steps make proofreading more fun? Not necessarily, but they will certainly give you a better command of your writing.

Although it’s unavoidable to miss a spot here and there, these tips will ensure you’re handing in your best work at all times.

Here’s to dreading the “submit” button a little less!

Filed Under: Craft

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11 comments

  • @Gabrielle
    I generally tend to avoid the proof reading part but you have made it easy. So hereafter I’m bookmarking your post.’Quick’ was the word for me. Thanks

  • Taren Randal says:

    While Serenity Editor has a difficult interface it does a great job of spotting repetitious words. It has a word count that counts all words/phrases for the document and paragraph by paragraph. It also flags filler words and wordy phrases. It might be useful to help with the problems you are looking for here.

  • Should I stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ as dialogue tags or should I use other words like ‘replied’ too?

    • Taren Randal says:

      If it’s obvious who is doing the talking and how they say it by what is said you need no tag. Sometimes sarcasm will need tags or if something is said in a way that is not obvious from what is said.
      For instance, if a girl says “You jerk.” and hits a guy in the arm she’s flirting, but if she makes an ugly face she means it.
      Tags other than “said” or “asked” should be rare, but don’t be afraid to use them if they fit.
      Hope that helps.

  • Ajoy Adhikary says:

    I do editing for doctoral papers but proofreading might me something fresh. I need your input to finally become an effective proofreader, professionally!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Love this article – actually, I don’t mind proofreading (and I have the added problem of sight difficulties so I’m often blind when trying to do it – many publishers are astounded when I explain my issues – I listen to the speech option and work from there, pausing repeatedly which is time consuming. I always have a headache after editing because of the sheer concentration it takes.

    I have a ridiculous routine for editing but I really can’t concentrate on more than one issue at a time. I read once for spelling, once for grammar, once for repetition, etc. There are frequently times when I yearn to change things but I always try to hold off – it’s too confusing for my poor little brain!

    I’ll never enjoy writing dialogue but it doesn’t faze me anymore. My skill is in description – apparently I really bring a scene to life. I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Taren Randal says:

      When I revise I use Grammarly first to catch the easy stuff. Then I use serenity editor and it helps with contextual spelling grammar and repetition. Then after reading aloud and having my computer read aloud, I use the list feature in Editor to make a list of every sentence in my book. Then I have the joyful job of circling all the subject and underlining all the predicates. Why would I torcher myself this way? Because I love pain. No, really its to force my mind to really look at my manuscript. My manuscript was 75000 words long with 7500 sentences and I found 700 errors that all other technics failed to find.

      BTW, when I have the computer read the manuscript I have a printout that I can mark up as it goes. That way I don’t have to pause in the middle of the reading.

      This is time-consuming and draining, but worth it. I hope this helps.

  • Student says:

    I hate editing my work. Is there anything that can help that? I want to get an ‘A’ but I don’t want to edit what I worked so hard on.

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