Proofreading Marks and Tips for Writers
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.
Charts of shorthand proofreading marks
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.
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?
Have you added a page break at the end of each chapter?
Are they all even?
Have you checked to make sure the title page is not numbered?
Have you made your dialogue and thinking dialogue consistent?
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.
Helping people who hate to edit
- 10 Quick and Easy Proofreading Ideas to Improve, Revise and Polish Your Writing.
Carly Sullens always hated to edit. She loved to write, but a learning disability made proofreading a nightmare. Determined to have a quick how-to guide, she wrote this article for struggling editor's like herself, to use as a reference for editing.
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.
- Write your first draft. Do no editing when it first gets put to paper.
- 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.
- Once you are done with the manuscript or document, it is time to read it looking for BIG problems.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Do you need a plan for writing at home?
- Develop a Writing Plan
Are you a writer with a plan? This article goes through the ins and outs of developing a writing plan, and why it is important to do so- even if you are the right brained creative type.
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.