Know Your Own Common Writing Mistakes
Becoming an expert proofreader starts with you! Knowing your own common mistakes in your own writing is the first step in becoming an expert-level editor. It might be forgetting “i before e except after c,” leaving out punctuation such as commas or semicolons, or overusing certain words. Being familiar with your own common mistakes makes them much easier to spot in other people’s writings. It also helps you improve on your own writing significantly.
Be Aware of Common Misspellings and Commonly Misused Spellings of Words
Most word processors have spell checkers that catch most misspellings. Of course, spell checkers don’t catch words that are correctly spelled words, but are misused by accident. That includes cases like “sea” and “see.” be aware of as many common spelling errors as you can. Even expert writers may have certain words they commonly misspell without thinking about it. Once a writer misspells or misuses a word enough times, it becomes a very difficult, if not impossible, habit to break.
Proofreading is More Than Misspellings
Proofreaders must not only catch misspellings and misused words. You also must watch for things like incorrect sentence structure, unnecessary repetition, and awkward wording. As a proofreader, you not only want to watch for bad or awkward grammar, but the flow of the text as a whole. Writers depend on proofreaders to make sure their text reads not only correctly, but also in a clear and understandable way. If it sounds like it reads wrong, it probably should be worded differently.
When Proofreading, Be Sure to Take a Break and Return with Fresh Eyes
Especially when proofreading your own work, leaving the work for a while then returning with fresh eyes is important. During that break, your mind will have refocused. You’ll be able to spot errors that may not have been obvious before because you were too close to the work. Even if you’re proofreading someone else’s work, it’s good to leave it aside after a first pass. You never know what you may have missed when you come back for the second look.
Reading Aloud While Proofreading Helps You Read What’s Actually on the Page
It’s true that our subconscious mind has a way of making us read what we think should be written on the page. But, as a proofreader, you need to not let your subconscious trick you and read what’s actually on the page. The best way to overcome this is to read out loud and do so slowly. You will catch far more errors and awkward things this way, realizing when sentences read strangely or words are repeated too many times in a paragraph.
Having Extra Help With Proofreading is Good
Especially when proofreading your own work, having a friend or another professional gives you a fresh set of eyes to check your work. Even when you’re proofreading others’ work, after awhile you become too familiar with the work. Having an unbiased third party gives fresh perspective. Even a quick glance can afford you extra insight you wouldn’t otherwise have. Even expert proofreaders will ask for an extra set of eyes on occasion.
Remember the Mind Works Faster Than Your Fingers as a Writer
As we writers get into the flow of writing, we sometimes don’t pay attention to how we are spelling certain words or structuring sentences. Especially when proofreading your own writing, you may not even catch some of these things. In your mind, you know what you were meaning to say. As a proofreader, you will run into passages that either are confusing or make no sense at all. In that way, proofreading others’ work can be easier, because you can catch mistakes others make much more easily than your own mistakes. So, when you’re proofreading and run into some passages that make no sense, the mind being faster than the fingers is probably why.
Never Proofread Your Work or Others’ Work Only Once
Don’t just settle for glancing over work just once, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. In fact, some professionals will proofread their work ten times or more! It’s important to read over a piece several times to make sure that it’s free of spelling and grammatical errors. It also ensures that you ensure that the text reads well. Proofreading, like any skill, takes lots of practice. If you do it enough, not only will your own work improve, but you’ll be able to help many other writers, too!