It’s not quite the same as revising or editing. My own definition is thus: proofreading is about the spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, word correctness (using they’re instead of their when appropriate, not whether it’s the best word for the story) and that sort of thing. Editing and revising are about content, word choice, story structure, and so on.

Proofreading is a pain, there’s no question about that. But you don’t need to pay someone to do it, unless you and everyone you know are hopeless with spelling and the like.

Depending on your level of competency with English, and how much help you have, there are many ways to proofread your work.

If you’re good, and alone, here are some suggestions. Go over it on your computer if you use one, then go over it again on paper with a highlighter or red pen (however you like). Then do it backward. I know that sounds weird, but it can be very helpful. When you’re reading left to right, you can easily get lost in the flow, and assume some words are correct even when they’re not. Reading each word, right to left, can force you to concentrate on that particular word.

If you are alone and want to hear your work read out loud, read it into a tape recorder. The act of doing so will force concentration on specific words also, and will point up errors to you. It will also show you errors in flow and where the dialogue stumbles. If you’d rather not take the time to read it out yourself, try software like NaturalReader, which does just that. It won’t be perfect, but it will help. And it’s amusing anyhow. 🙂

If you have help, then offer the printed version to someone to go over. Be humble and thankful. Don’t forget that they are not in love with your novel the way you are, and don’t have a stake in getting it published: they’re doing this to help you. You don’t have to make the changes they suggest, but it behooves you to pay attention and to say thank you very nicely. Arguing over the changes will not help you convince them to do the next one.

Now is the time to cultivate your friend and mine, the grammar nazi. Almost everyone knows one. If you can’t find a grammar nazi per se, find an English teacher. You can seriously go to your local high school or college, find an English teacher, and politely ask for an appointment to discuss them going over your work. They may not have time, but for the most part they will be delighted to be asked. They will be flattered, and they will be highly likely to jump at the chance to read something that isn’t from a student. Really.

Here is a tip that shades over into editing and revising. Have someone read the text out loud, and listen to them do it. Watch their expression, listen to how it works, and you will find not only errors, but a great deal more. Where the dialogue doesn’t work, where the reader is confused, what makes them laugh, what makes them feel sad or worried. Gauging a reader’s level of involvement with the story is invaluable.

If all this sounds like way too much work to put into your project, you may be in the wrong profession. Just wait till the editing comes around!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cliff Burns
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 08:54:22

    I turn off the “grammar” function on my computer–otherwise every second sentence would be highlighted or underlined in green. My grammar is my own and fits the style of each story. Can you imagine what would happen if the work of someone like Cormac McCarthy was scanned by grammar software? The machine would likely EXPLODE.

    And the spelling function is no good for me either because my software insists on providing the American version of the word. Grr.

    But you’re quite right and, all levity aside, authors should expend great energy making sure their offerings are as glitch free as possible. And, hey, bloggers, that means meticulously checking your posts too. Some of you are awfully sloppy and, believe me, it shows…

  2. asherose
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 09:21:07

    I should have mentioned the grammar and spelling functions on the writing software. I forgot to mention them because I don’t use them. If they auto-check, they drive me mad, because they insist on pointing out every instance of every name they don’t recognize, which for fantasy authors comes out to a lot of names. Grammar functions and I never, ever agree, just as you say.

    Spell check is relatively useless for fiction. I consider its use to be the curse of big publishing houses nowadays. You can tell when they’re in use—homonyms that are completely wrong are put in, or words that are spelled correctly but obviously should have been a related word (like tale instead of tail, or wring instead of wrong).

    Thank you for pointing this out, Cliff, I didn’t even think about this option!

  3. xiamcorl
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 18:12:41

    *pout* my english teacher moved to Albq, but I got you and Pam to help me and I will help you as much as I can.

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