As a professional proofreader and writer people expect every bit of work I do to be absolutely word-perfect, but honestly, it isn’t. This isn’t because I’m bad at my job, on the contrary, I am able to pick up the most minute of mistakes in other people’s work, but I struggle with my own because I know what’s there – or rather, what my brain thinks is there. But don’t just take my word on how hard it is, read this lovely humorous blog illustrating the problems you can run into. This is why professional multi-million pound authors get proofread, not just to clean up story-lines, but to spot the mistakes they didn’t even know were there. So, how can you proofread your own work? As I have just illustrated, the best approach is to hand it over to your friend/parent/ anyone else with a good eye, and have them do it, but if you absolutely can’t avoid it, here are some tips to help you out.
My best advice is leave yourself time to do it, because to get something even close to perfect you need to read through it at least three times. If you construct your writing the way I do, then the first draft will be extremely rough. Proofread one is to put paragraphs in the right order, sort out sections of an essay (or book chapters, whatever it is you’re writing) and make sure it all makes sense and nothing has been missed out. Proofread two is to look through the reordered work and make sure everything flows well and there are no awkward sentences or dodgy/non-existent links between paragraphs. Of course, you can use your first and second proofreads to smooth out any spelling and grammatical issues you find along the way.
But proofread three is the crucial one, and the one I won’t get time to do on this blog entry because I don’t want to wait to get it online (so I apologise for any mistakes you find!). The third proofread should take place an absolute minimum of three days after the first two, and you must not revisit the work at all in the meantime. If you can, wait a week. Then go back to it. Hopefully by then you might have forgotten the exact details of what you wrote and your mind will be much more open to seeing mistakes; you won’t be reading what you think you know is there, but what actually is there.
If your proofreading someone else’s work, it should come to you having had the first, and probably the second, proofreading stages done already. No-one should be asking you to take a rough draft and turn it into something perfect, unless they simply want your opinion on a work in progress, but aren’t expecting you to actually correct anything. So if you’ve got a piece of work in a relatively good state and are ironing out the little mistakes, how do you start?
I always go through the process using the Microsoft Word ‘review’ tool, found here on newer versions of word:
In old versions you need to right click any toolbar and enable the ‘reviewing’ toolbar, than you will have all the buttons you need. On both versions, you then need to click ‘track changes’, this means that any revisions you make to the text will show up in a different colour and be reversible, like so:
To accept or reject your changes, the person you’re editing for will have to click the accept changes button, either individually for each alteration, by accepting all the changes in a document in one go, or by highlighting part of the text and clicking accept to accept all changes in that section.
One of the best features of this tool is the ability to add comments to the text, to do this, click the new comment button, a comment will appear wherever the cursor is currently situated within the text, or you can highlight a section and then click comment, this will indicate that your comment relates to that entire word, sentence, or section:
This is especially useful for the following:
Indicating you don’t understand what is meant
Justifying/ explaining the changes you’ve made
Showing where references need to be added
Of course, you can use the review tool on your own work too, especially if you’re not sure of changes you’re making and want to try them out before you make them permanent.
I hope this is helpful, if you have any other tips on how to effectively proofread your own work, please comment below 🙂