Proofing and editing my own writing is a daily practice and necessity for me. I write for a living, but writing also happens to be my personal passion as well. Through trial by fire, and a fair amount of research, I have refined a self-editing and proofing process that will make your content more captivating and error free.
1. Make Proofreading and Editing Two Separate Processes
The first mistake I made when I began this journey in self-editing, was confusing the definitions of ‘proofreading’ and ‘editing’, as most people use these terms almost interchangeably. While editing digs deep into analyzing and improving your content, proofreading is the final stage of polishing and refining the minor details such as punctuation and misspellings.
The way I formerly self-edited looked like this- moving sentence by sentence through my work, revising content, trying out new ideas, and scanning for grammatical errors all in the same swoop- sound familiar? I would always be confounded when I got my paper back from the professor, and red ink showed that I had missed several key mistakes. This is when I began doing research and switching up my editing process to see what worked and what didn’t.
This is what I found- it’s essential to edit first. This may sound tedious and terrible, but this means analyzing each sentence of your work in detail. As you move from line to line, ask yourself, “What do I need this sentence to convey and what purpose does it serve?”
Example: You’re about to begin editing your research paper. You start with the first line and ask yourself, “What do I need this first sentence to do?” You decide that it has to state your thesis. Once you determine you’ve proclaimed your thesis clearly, you can check that box off. Then you move on to the next question, “Is this the best way to state my thesis?”. And then you can analyze the structure of the sentence and determine if there is a more compelling way to communicate its purpose.
After you’ve thoroughly edited, NOW is finally the time to begin the proofing process. This is important, so don’t skip over it- during the proofreading process you are NOT changing content. This is the stage where you put on your grammar guru glasses and look for misspellings, comma splices, unnecessary spaces, and so on. By separating the editing of content and the polishing of grammar and punctuation, you are so much more likely to catch those little mistakes that can have a big impact on your writing.
2. Read Through Your Work Backwards
I actually stumbled on this tactic by mistake. I had just written a blog post at work, and I was stumped on the last paragraph. I just couldn’t come up with a dynamite closing, and it was KILLING me. So I set my sights on working my way up through the post backwards to try and stumble upon even a crumb of inspiration to close it out, but I ended up discovering an incredible editing technique.
This is why reading your work finish to start really works:
Do you ever look at a lumpy cloud and see a whale, or some other creature? Our brains are wired to find patterns in the random, and fill in blanks where the dots aren’t all connected. So when you read your own writing in the order you created it, your brain is designed to fill in the gaps, because hey- it knows what you really meant to say. So if you typed “Untied States” instead of “United States” (one of my worst fears), your brain may not catch that you misspelled the name of our country because it know what you intended to say all along.
Reading your writing backwards fixes this problem. It takes your brain off-guard because the content suddenly feels new, instead of a thought you’ve already had a million times.
You may just find a few mistakes that would’ve been just enough to lose your reader.
3. Read it Aloud
One of the most “sure-fire” techniques of catching mistakes is to read your writing aloud. Now, if you are writing something a little lengthier like a novel or dissertation, I realize this may seem impossible. The key is to read it aloud as you go. So once you finish several pages, go back and read it aloud. I guarantee that if you misspell a word, or write something that doesn’t flow, you will notice it immediately.
4. Mark Up a Hard Copy
Maybe I just love think paper and a good pen, but I find I am so much more effective in copyediting when I print my work out. When you take your eyes off the bright illumenence of your computer screen, it not only gives your eyes a repreive, but it also allows you to see your writing in a new format which helps your brain from filling in those patterns we talked about earlier.
I hope this article helps you be the writer you were born to be. I love and have learned so much from the WordPress community on writing and I am so happy to share whatever I can with you. I would love to hear your questions or comments. Feel free to send me an email over on my contact page or tell me what you think in the comments below!
Sweet Dreams and Happy Travels, lovelies!