Ways to catch embarrassing typographical, grammatical, and stylistic errors before you submit your work:
Read your manuscript aloud
Hearing what you’ve written helps you gauge its rhythm, pace, sound, and degree of difficulty. If sections seem long-winded or make you tongue-tied, rewrite them in simplified language. Use simple declarative sentences. Keep your paragraphs short. Strive for clarity and power.
If you read sentences in the sequence you wrote them, you may read into them words that are missing. Since you know what your article or story is supposed to say, you may anticipate ghost words.
To guarantee you see each word, read back from the last word on a page to the first word. You’ll notice if a word is misspelled, a period has been left off an abbreviation, or a capital letter has been overlooked.
Don’t proofread only on your computer monitor. Print out the pages. If those pages are numbered, there’s no reason you can’t mix them up. Each can then be analyzed as one unit, and you won’t be distracted by concentrating on the overall content.
Let it rest
If possible, let your drafts or page proofs lie in a desk drawer a few days. Then you can proofread with new eyes. You will have forgotten the exact words you used and be a more objective reader.
Vary the routine
If you get a stack of galleys of your forthcoming book, don’t overload your senses by trying to blitz through them in one sitting. Vary the routine by reading and editing just two or three chapters at a time. Hours later, or perhaps the next day, check another three chapters. Keep alert and fresh when proofreading.
If someone in your writers group needs help on a project, offer to copyedit her manuscript if she will proof your galleys. If you have a secretary, spouse, or older child willing to serve as a second set of eyes, enlist that person.
If you’ve done your best to get your manuscript ready, but question your ability to spot all grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes, consider hiring a professional editor.
Some English teachers moonlight as proofreaders. Providers of editorial services are listed in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide and in Writer’s Market.
When you get your marked-up copy back from a professional editor, not only should the manuscript be flawless, but you will also be able to see what mistakes you made and learn not to repeat them.
CWG Board Member Dr. Dennis E. Hensley heads the professional writing program at Taylor University. His most recent book is Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers).
Photo credit: Graur Razvan Ionut