Slaving over your writing task for many, many hours, you finally get to the proofreading stage. “No big deal—I’m almost done!” you probably think. However, deciding to finish editing in one pass, you eventually find out it is quite an arduous task to correct all the mistakes in one go. In fact, you open a document, and your eyes jump over the words at random. “Where are these little bastards?” you might say. The more you edit, the more you are uncertain of your actions. Being far from fresh and well-rested, you are prone to making more mistakes than you committed before.
Don’t despair. Take a deep breath, get some rest and prepare to check our 12 elaborate proofreading tips and techniques for newbies in editing. Just like any other undiscovered area, the first step is the longest stride. Before you make your editing muscle strong enough to cope with the routine perfectly, these proofreading tips may come in handy when looking over unedited documents.
1. Respect his majesty’s order
Creating a certain order can not only facilitate the working process, but also help achieve better results. Want to make it efficient? Then it should fit your personal preferences, habits, and particulars. For example, I need to spend at least 20 minutes in the morning on loading my brain with some side stuff, like news, articles, and books. This helps me work better during the day without being too much distracted by non-essential information.
Try to have a plan either in your head or on the paper with a certain sequence of actions. Doing so, you will see that an overall self-organization and commitment to the process itself could do wonders.
2. Work on the big stuff first
Keep in mind that checking spelling or reshaping sentences logically should be done at the end of the editing process. It is far better to amend these minor flaws of your writing only after you’ve taken care of the overall picture. This implies the presence of a compelling plot, vivid description, sound arguments, coherence, and so forth. Why care about misspelled words if you may eventually delete the whole paragraph or entirely rephrase it?
3. Make up a custom error list
Sooner or later, almost every professional proofreader develops a specific working approach, along with an elaborated methodology, and faces challenges while writing. If you want to proofread for money, but have not obtained high proofreading skills yet, then a well-structured list will come in handy.
If you notice a tendency to make repetitive mistakes, write them down. When you get to the editing stage, make sure to check these dubious words using the find feature in your text editor. This way you can correct flaws and develop the awareness required to banish them from your drafts for good.
4. Don’t bite more than you can chew
I know there is a big temptation to settle the matter ASAP. However, this is not how quality correction works. Don’t go into editing or proofreading trying to find all the mistakes in one go. It’s quite challenging to keep a long list of rules and categories in your head at once. Instead, a much more efficient way would be to make several passes through the document.
For example, you can split proofreading into a few stages, such as wordiness, punctuation, and grammar. This approach will boost your concentration during the process. Looking for every possible error in one readthrough, you are more prone to missing some of them.
5. Separate the wheat from the chaff
Only if you are an instinctual genius, you may tend to write wordy first drafts. To make things better, go over your draft and see if you can find the words and phrases that make your writing more sharp.
Doing so, your reader gets to the point faster. It may be tough to notice wordiness or redundancy, though. For instance, small phrases like “in order to” or “the mere fact that” are hints to simplify. Also, an expression like “he is working on new innovations” is slightly redundant, since “new innovations” repeats its meaning.
6. Short doesn’t mean bad
This statement arises from the previous point. Basically, lengthy sentences are much more challenging for readers. Why create an extra hurdle by writing overloaded content? It is fine if you happen to write one or two long sentences, yet a succession of them may oppress a reader.
People also tend to write extremely complex sentences to either look more sophisticated or to hide their ignorance in a subject. So, keeping sentences shorter than 15 words is the right strategy for writing clear ideas.
7. Be affirmative
When preferring negative sentences, your readers have to grasp the key verbs and find the opposite meaning. The ones with several negations are even harder to understand. In addition, such a type of sentence is usually longer than its affirmative version, so the second kind is more concise.
This implies the tendency to use negative statements wisely. Instead of “He did not fail the exam” we may use “He passed the exam,” “She doesn’t remember the detail” as “She forgot the detail,” etc.
8. Be consistent in your actions
Be sure to use your style guide during the work. This will give you a better idea about whether to use contractions. Though MLA, APA, and Chicago can look similar at first glance, they have their own subtle nuances. In the academic writing field, words like “it’s” or “can’t” shouldn’t be anything but “it is” or “cannot.” Sometimes the contracted style appears to be too informal for some types of writing.
Editing in chunks, writers can handle certain parts of a document in one pass. So, pay attention to the changes you make—if you replace something on page one, make sure you change a similar thing on page 54, 55, and so on.
9. Vote for active voice
If there’s one grammar point you should learn, it’s the idea of active voice. Active voice is the most straightforward way of ordering your words, so let’s take advantage of it. Basically, you put the one who takes an action first, then the action itself, and then the receiver of this action. For instance, in the sentence “Maria goes to the theatre” Maria is the main “doer,” which we understand explicitly.
Passive voice, however, is more complex, which gives a person extra barriers to read, especially when using it throughout a text. Passive voice makes an unnecessary delay, giving more words to the main message. Such a sentence as “The theatre was visited by Maria” is almost the same, yet implies a more complicated word order.
10. Better safe than sorry
Trying to better a text, the worst thing you can do is to unintentionally make even more mistakes. All the world’s proofreading tips and tricks are powerless as our sluggish fingers hit incorrect keys. Without thorough attention, one can move further, being unaware of making a new mistake.
11. God bless references
Usually, academic documents can’t go without these links to original sources. This important stage gives legitimacy to the content you produce, especially if you work in academic writing. However, at the bottom of the document, you may get too tired to look over all the references thoroughly. Repent! The end is nigh.
Take your time and keep your “Bible” (read: the style guide) close. Remember about consistency, capitalization, and compliance. Each and every detail is equally essential to the process of bettering your writing. Amen.
12. The best advice is found on the pillow
Having spent a lot of time with a document, you might become less objective. An impartial approach, however, is crucial for qualitative editing and proofreading. To have fresh eyes on the case, you can leave editing for a while. Just sleep on it. Opening it the next day, you might find out a better resolution. The mistakes that were hidden from you yesterday may suddenly pop up in the most surprising places in the morning.