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Proofreading Your Own Work: 10 Practical Tips for Authors

By Harriet Hodgson

After I have finished a book I check the spelling one last time and proofread it. It’s hard for me to proofread my own work because I get diverted. Instead of looking for specific errors, I get caught up in the content. I remember the easy parts and the troublesome parts. As usual, I ask myself, “Did I reach my goal?”

I just proofread my latest book. My publisher wanted me to look it over before forwarding it to the printer. Two months had passed since I last proofread the book and I was surprised at the number of errors I found. Some words were singular when they should have been plural. Two Internet addresses were incorrect. Words had been lost due to text editing.

Why did I miss these errors? The biggest problem with authors proofreading their own work is that we know what is coming. We know each and every paragraph, each and every sentence, each and every word. If words are missing, our minds fill in the blanks automatically. That’s why publishers have editors and proofreaders.

Still, you may be asked to proofread your book. How can you do it efficiently?

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill has posted an article, “Editing and Proofreading,” on its website. The first tip, distancing yourself from the text, applied to me. I picked up new errors because two months had passed. “Clear your head of what you’ve written so you can take a fresh look at the paper and see what is really on the page,” the article advises. Proofread in short blocks of time is another helpful tip. I didn’t do this before, but do it now.

LR Communication Systems, Inc., has posted proofreading tips on its website. According to the first tip, you should read your work aloud. I do this all the time and find it helpful. But I couldn’t possibly do the second tip, reading sentences backwards to catch spelling errors. However, I do follow some proofreading tips and here are the 10 best ones.

* Proofread early in the morning when your mind is fresh.

* Print out the manuscript. Though some authors can proof electronic copy successfully, it is harder on your eyes.

* Use spellcheck, but don’t rely on it. Spellcheck often misses medical and technical words or flags jargon.

* Each time you proofread, do it with a specific purpose in mind: content, topic sentences, word flow, punctuation, spelling, tense, proper names, etc. Doing this makes it easier to spot errors.

* Pay attention to the little words, the, to, at, me, my, because they may be missing a letter.

* Check headings separately. “Headings are prone to error because copy editors often don’t focus on them,” according to LR Communication Systems, Inc.

* If your book includes a bibliography, make sure the resources are listed in the proper format and Internet addresses are correct.

* Consider the overall layout. Look for missing spaces, extra spaces, tight copy, indenting inconsistencies, numbering and bullet errors. If you have included charts, graphs or photos with captions, look them over carefully.

* Check page numbers to ensure they are in the right place and sequential.

* Look for consistencies, such as printing book titles in italics and bold.

Though I was embarrassed by the number of errors I found in my manuscript, I didn’t berate myself for them. I had kept the promise I made to readers in the Preface. “This book is going to help lots of people,” my contact person said. That was all I needed to know.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson had been an independent journalist for 30+ years. Her 24th book, Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation published her 26th book, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life and a companion journal. The company also published The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul and her latest book, Happy Again!

She has two other new books, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey, available from Amazon, and Real Meals on 18 Wheels: A Guide for Healthy Living on the Highway, Kathryn Clements, RD, co-author, and available from Amazon soon. Please visit her website and learn more about this busy author.

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