Have you ever re-read something you’ve published and found a grammatical error, misspelled word, or punctuation error? You feel embarrassed, right? If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone—we all have found mistakes in our published pieces.
Why don’t we catch those errors before we hit “publish” and send it out into the world?
“Gestalt psychologists were the first to discover that our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” writes Debra Hart May in Proofreading Plain and Simple.
“The implications of this phenomenon for proofreading are enormous. Artist and author Carolyn Bloomer, in her book, Principles of Visual Perception, tells us ‘. . . Your mental “correcting” tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for. . . .’”
Read that again. If we grasp that “our minds tend to see things not as they are, but as our minds think they should be,” and that “mental ‘correcting’ tends to tune out the very errors you are looking for,” we’ll be more committed to watching for that tendency in our own editing and proofreading.
Writers can find help from books, blogs, classes, writing workshops, and critique partners. (There’s a difference between editing and proofreading. Learn more at Leah McClellan’s post, What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?)
Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward offers twenty-one tips in Do-It-Yourself Proofreading and Editing Tips. Each point is important but let me call your attention to point 16: “Start building a collection of grammar books and writing resources so when you do run into questions (and you will), you have access to reliable and credible answers.” I say Amen! to that! Also, ask other skilled writers which books they recommend.
Related to that is Melissa’s point 21: “Make it your business to develop good grammar skills. Read up on grammar or subscribe to a blog that publishes grammar posts (like this one) to stay up to date on proper grammar.” Amen! to that, too.
Nowadays we have more resources at our fingertips than in the past. For example, if you use Microsoft 365, you’ll see “Editor” near the top right of your screen. Click on that for feedback on spelling, grammar, clarity, conciseness, formality, punctuation, and vocabulary.
Also, I highly recommend using “Read Aloud” (Microsoft Office 365 under the Review tab). Pay close attention while you listen. You might be surprised at how many mistakes your ears catch that your eyes miss.
I also use the free version of Grammarly for online writing (emails, blog posts, Facebook).
Perhaps you’re like me: I’m always amazed at how I fail to notice overused words. Because of my blind spot, I depend on Wordcounter to point them out to me. It does what its name implies: it lists how many times I’ve used a given word. I use the Thesaurus (under the Review tab) to choose different words.
Melissa Donovan also has a comprehensive list so click on this link to take in her rich resource. You might want to print it for a handy reference.
And below, I’ll share additional tips with you:
- When you think your manuscript is nearly ready for publication, take a break from it. Don’t think about it. If possible, wait a week before you set eyes on it again. If that’s not realistic, work on something else for a while—empty the dishwasher, take a walk, make a phone call. Afterward, you’ll be better at spotting areas that need attention: grammatical errors, misspelled words, punctuation errors, etc.
- Print your manuscript. Eyes see mistakes on a printed page that they miss on a computer screen.
- Move away from your writing area to read your printed document—in a different room, a park, your back yard, a coffee shop, or at the beach.
Here are more tips from Debra Hart May’s Proofreading Plain and Simple:
- Print a [vertically-oriented] portrait document in landscape (or horizontal) mode.
- Print in a larger or less familiar font. (But choose a serif font . . . [because] they are easier to read.)
- Work in small time increments—15-20 minutes at a time.
- Take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, and mentally engage from the task.
Editing and proofreading can be tedious tasks,
but they are a super-important part of writing and publishing.
If you do them well (hiring experts if necessary),
you can publish a quality book.
Don’t settle for anything less!