I hate proofreading. It bores me senseless. But it’s a necessary evil. It’s one of the big differences between something looking professional, or looking amateurish.

Proofreading is different to editing in that editing you make big changes. Proofreading you check for grammatical errors, typos, and consistency. It’s very easy to switch between using – and — for a dash (it should be — if it’s in a sentence), or between writing Restless Minds’ or Restless Minds’s (both are correct) without realising.

Here’s some more reasons why proofreading is important:

1. It prevents silly mistakes 

It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, you’re not going to pick up on every error that you make. That’s why proofreaders exist. Unfortunately, smaller publications don’t always have proofreaders anymore, so errors slip through the cracks sometimes. Or in the case of local newspapers, non-news and non-events get publication anyway.

2. Agents/Editors/Publishers will know you care about your work

Submitting a piece that’s littered with typos is a sure-fire way to broadcast to anyone you show your work to that you don’t care. You might actually really care, but just loathe proofreading. Doesn’t matter. They’ll assume you’re not willing to put in any hard work since you couldn’t be bothered to spend some time proofreading your submission, and you’ll be rejected without a second thought.

Why is proofreading so important?

How to improve your proofreading skills:

1. Don’t read it

This is something one of my former journalist friends taught me (she did a lot of proofreading back in the day). 

Look at each individual word instead of seeing the sentence as a whole. If you know what to expect, you’re going to assume the next word says that, particularly if you’ve read a piece several times. 

Think of it is:

Jack. Went. Up. The. Hill.

as opposed to:

Jack went up the hill.

This makes the whole process a lot easier, but it makes you far more likely to pick up on simple mistakes. We’ve all been guilty of confusing their and there during late night freewriting sessions. You know what it’s supposed to say, though, so you read it as it should be anyway. Seeing the word and not the sentence helps to prvent this.

2. Read it on a different platform

Read through the piece in a different format to what it was written, such as printed or on a tablet instead of a PC. It’s amazing the difference a change in format can make.

What ingredients does a short story need?

3. Have notes

Have a list of things beside you to look out for, and refer back to it every couple of paragraphs. 

There are different stylesheets to adhere to, and which you choose is up to you. Alternatively, you can use your own (I’d advise against this, but it’s up to you.)

4. Go slowly and take regular breaks

Proofreading is time-consuming. There’s no way around it. If your mind is starting to go fuzzy or words are blending together, stop, take a break, and come back to it. There’s no point rushing a proofreading job. You’ll only end up missing something.

5. Be objective

Don’t think about the fact that it’s your work you’re reading over. See it as someone else’s. Treat it like it’s someone else’s.

If it is someone else’s you’re proofreading, think about what kinds of things you’d be embarrassed if other people picked up, not you. Such as using their instead of there, or to instead of too.

The Short of it

  • Proofreading is important
  • It gets easier the more you do it
  • See the word, not the sentence
  • Read it on a different platform
  • Refer to your notes
  • Take it slow
  • Breaks are important
  • Be objective