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Proofreading Marks and Tips for Writers

Updated on September 8, 2012

Whether you are an author of a juicy novel or a content writer for the Web, learning how to proofread your work is almost as important as the writing itself. When you are working with a large document, it is advisable that you find someone else to do the editing for you, but it is still crucial that you learn how to polish and revise your work before sending it out to agents, publishers, or clients.

Different types of editing and proofing

Many beginners wrongly assume that editing and revising happens by reading your document a couple of times, looking for mistakes and problems. The problem is that it is very difficult to spot all the issues with the work, since the type of concentration you need to identify grammar problems is very different than looking at the story as a whole. Here are the three main categories of editing. There may be more, but most of them can fit under this umbrella.

When you revise a document or manuscript, this type of editing looks for holes in your plot. If it is an article, you are looking at the substance. Do the arguments make sense? Is there enough evidence or meat for your topic? With a story, are the characters believable? This type of editing can also involve looking at your book's marketability and target audience.

With this type of editing, you are looking specifically for awkward phrases, misplaced punctuation, grammar problems, and spelling errors. Sometimes this is called line editing. You are digging deep into the structure of your writing, looking for ways to make each sentence perfect. You also need to make sure your tone is consistent through the whole thing. People who don't pay close attention to point of view changes will notice problems during this phase.

In this category, your goal is to look for consistency in the formatting of your document. Are all the headings the same size? Indentations, page breaks, and other formatting issues are corrected. Depending on the way you publish (ebook, blog, Word doc, etc.), your formatting may have to adjust. With non-fiction writing, you have to make sure all your images, tables, graphs, and footnotes are properly arranged.

This little adjustment adds style and professionalism to your document or manuscript.
This little adjustment adds style and professionalism to your document or manuscript. | Source

Proofreading checklist

When it is time to format your document (keep reading to see the writer's editing plan, which recommends that you format and proofread last), do the "scan it" approach. For each line item below, go through the whole document looking at just that one point. Then do it again for each point. This way, you are sure not to miss anything. Check it off when you've reviewed each category. It should go pretty quickly because you are not really reading, but more scanning.

If you try to attack all the categories at once, you may forget, How many spaces did I include between headings? and other questions like that.

What to look for
Are they all the same font, size, and style?
Are they all indented or spaced?
First letter of each chapter
Are you going to increase the size for a styled look?
Are your paragraph spacings all even?
Page breaks
Have you added a page break at the end of each chapter?
Are they all even?
Page numbers
Have you checked to make sure the title page is not numbered?
Dialogue punctuation
Have you made your dialogue and thinking dialogue consistent?
Scene breaks
Did you use the same style to divide up scene breaks within a chapter?
Do all your links work?
Did you write anything in all caps? (not really recommended)
Is the whole thing left, right, or fullly aligned?
Did you leave one space after each sentence or two? (one is standard)
Did you keep them consistent? (i.e. lbs vs. pounds)

Once you are done, you'll want to view the document in the version it will appear. Conversions can cause all sorts of crazy problems, so checking it against the original is highly recommended.

An edit and proofreading plan

Sometimes it is hard to know WHEN your manuscript or article is ready to be sent out. Keep in mind that no one person can always spot every problem. In most cases, another set of eyes helps tremendously. However, it isn't reasonable to expect that you will have time for this when you are writing several documents a day. With a novel, you do. Here is a general plan to follow.

  1. Write your first draft. Do no editing when it first gets put to paper.
  2. The next day, when it is time to continue with the story, briefly read through yesterday's work and fix any obvious mistakes. This isn't meant to be a real editing session, but rather to get your head back into the work so your new part will sound like the same "voice" as yesterday.
  3. Once you are done with the manuscript or document, it is time to read it looking for BIG problems.
  4. Rewrite, add, or delete according to the problems you find. This part may take a long time if you are writing a novel. You will want to deal with character problems, plot dead ends, and reworking chapters that are boring or don't move along.
  5. Next, you want to print out your manuscript or document for line editing. Having it on paper makes spotting problems easier. Go through each sentence, line by line. Check for any grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. You can also fix awkward phrases.
  6. Once that is done, you need to read your document out loud. Your ear will be able to hear mistakes that your eyes missed. Writing has a rhythm to it, similar to music. You want the writing to flow, and the only way to get at that is to read it out loud.
  7. Finally, it is time to format and proof. You want to make sure everything with margins, indents, fonts, and sizing are laid out properly. If you have links, pictures, or graphs, you'll want to check and make sure they look right in the format they will be published in.

With a big book or important document

Find another writer (or two) to read through your document. It may be easier if you give them a specific task. Instead of saying, "Can you read this and point out mistakes?" ask them to read the story and mark any parts that they were tempted to skip over. That is a red flag that you are rambling or there isn't enough meat in the paragraph.

Or you could have them read it and put a question mark anywhere that doesn't make sense. Give your colleagues a specific type of editing to do.

Finally, consider giving your manuscript a rest. Once you are done, let it sit for awhile before you dive into the editing process. It will give you fresh eyes and energy to see things you didn't see before.

You may want to use Microsoft Word's Track Changes tool, which allows you follow your changes. That way, if you change your mind about something, you can easily undo the change.

Not an expert

This article is intended for beginners. Writing is a lifelong craft, and I am not an expert. In my own personal experience, I find that I am completely overwhelmed by all the details a writer must keep track of. In addition to great writing and great editing, there is the world of blogging, marketing, social media, and all sorts of other connections to be made. You may be tempted to just give up.

With this plan, I hope to be able to motivate new writers to work in small steps. If you do everything listed here with your document, you will be WAY ahead of other new writers who are just starting out.

Mistakes are inevitable, but once you have these skills down, you can continue to hone your craft by focusing in on one specific skill.


About the author

Julie DeNeen is a freelance writer and mom of three. She has just finished writing her first ebook, having to tread through all these waters with nothing more than an Internet roadmap. This article outlines what she did, as well as information she gathered over her own study and research. It is in no way meant to be a complete reference.


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    • greeneryday profile image


      6 years ago from Some tropical country

      Wow there are so much factors involved to get your writing higher in term of quality. I guess at the end of the day you'll be rewarded for the effort and hard-works given in order to write a perfect content. Thank you for sharing this I've learned something new today, voted up and more...

    • manthy profile image


      6 years ago from Alabama,USA

      really helpful hub - voted up

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 

      6 years ago from UK

      Superb hub! Very useful, interesting and informative. Voted up and book marked with thanks and appreciation. I know I've said it before but came back for another read while I'm currently editing a historical novel written by a friend of mine.

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 

      6 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      Larry Wall: Yes it is very disconcerting to have your research and work disparaged by others, and then later discover they have used it to their own advantage. It is just as bad as stealing a patent. Unfortunately too many do not respect copyrights, even lawyers who should know better.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Honestly Julie this is so helpful! I really love these hubs you do for writers and tips. I started out super slow and I really expected to know it all by now...18 months later? Ima baby still:) lol

      I am really not great about proofing my own stuff...I do try but Jo matter how many times I can still find problems sometimes! It's exhausting all alone!

    • rcrumple profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Julie -

      I've stopped getting emails of your hub releases... grrrr. Another great hub with exceptionally great points to be covered. A quick question for you. How to you adjust the view of your hub for different browsers? I've noticed my hubs look fine with Int. Exp., but with Google Chrome or Firefox, tend to have holes that should be filled. I've noticed some webpages stating, "Best viewed with...." but to do this with a hub is difficult. Any suggestions?

    • carter06 profile image


      6 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Great hub Julie and really useful and well laid out info...thanks for this...

      VUAI & shared...cheers

    • Michael Toole profile image

      Michael Toole 

      6 years ago from Gainesville, Missouri

      Very nice Hub, keep up the great work! :)

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 

      6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      You've listed some fantastic tips and pieces of advice here - things I didn't even know to check for. Thank you, will definitely be keeping these in mind in the future. Great job!

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 

      6 years ago from UK

      Great hub, voted up, interesting and useful. All that needs to be said has been said already if I think of anything I'll come back! Bookmarked this hub for regular reference - Thank you

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Well said, Julie.

      I recently took a course on editing my skills 'cause I realized that I needed to perfect my grammar skills besides conveying my message to the readers.

      voted up as interesting

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      A really useful hub here Julie. For aspiring authors and net writers as well as for those who may want to pursue proofreading - this wonderful article and the tips and tricks form a very useful resource. Professionally done and immensely readable! voted up/shared!

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 

      6 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      It is extra difficult for me as I took my early schooling at a Convent school in Japan. We were taught English spelling, not American spelling, terms and words. Just like learning music, my first teachers taught "do, re, mi" where following teachers taught in "A,B,C". I still get the two mixed up occasionally.

      However I have successfully published two books and been able to write for some magazines and newspapers. I try to avoid acronyms, and if I do use them they are followed by an explanation. If I use Japanese or French words, they are invariably followed by a translation. It may seem tedious, but clarity as well as brevity works well for me.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Julie, very informative and detailed article on helping the beginner writer with proofreading whether it be an article or a novel, you truly covered all the bases. I am pinning this article to be able to refer to it. HAve also voted, shared and tweeted too!!

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      6 years ago


      Your approach works if everyone realizes that they are editing your work and not creating their own work. In my last job I had to write a paper about the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the oil and gas industry. I had a group of five. No one bothered to read the entire document before they started editing. The resulting document was a committee document and I made sure my name was not on it. Everyone had a different idea but no one offered any input before I started writing. In cases like that you need to limit the number of people involved in the editing process.

      If you are involved in a friendly group trying to help each other and with the final decision being yours, then that method would work very well.

    • shruti sheshadri profile image

      shruti sheshadri 

      6 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Great hub julie! really useful. Learnt a lot, and now I realize what i have to bear in mind :)

      Thank you :) voted up!

    • Anju Arya profile image

      Anju Arya 

      6 years ago from India

      Good job. Useful advise and tips. Thanks Julie. Voted up.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      I think one the most important things we can do once "we think" we have finished editing what we have written is to have someone else take a look at what we have written. By using another person experienced in editing, we can improve our writing even more. I like Pennypine's idea of being part o f a freelance writers' group.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is an excellent article about a topic (editing) that is critical to any writer who wishes to be successful. The links to the charts of proofreader's and edit marks are icing on the cake. Voted Up++.


    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 

      6 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      I belong to a Freelance Writers group of mostly published authors. I find it most helpful to bring several copies to each session, hand them out and then read aloud from my work. The writers each critique the paper, correct any spelling or punctuation mistakes, and return the document to me to correct. It is a small group, limited to 12, so in the couple of hours allotted, we accomplish a great deal. Highly recommended.


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