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Quick Tip: Three Steps for Perfect Proofing

There’s a tedious but necessary final step before hitting “publish”: proofreading. If you’re anything like me, proofreading is the antithesis of writing, cruelly shunting you from an intuitive, creative flow to the much-less-fulfilling world of misplaced commas and accidental their/there/they’re confusion.

Still, it’s gotta be done; an error dulls the shine from the most sparkling prose, and even personal, stream-of-consciousness posts benefit from good copyediting. Try these three steps to become your own best editor:

  1. Check for accuracy. Is everything you’ve written correct? This is critical if what you’re writing includes things like dates, contact information, or data — it’s easy for our eyes to skip over a street address we’ve seen a hundred times, so take a minute to focus on these details. Accuracy is about more than just verifying the spelling of an email address, though. If you’re offering instructions, are they clear and comprehensive? Is anything open to misinterpretation? Be your own devil’s advocate and give your writing a once-over from a reader’s perspective.
  2. Be merciless with nips and tucks. Editing is as important as writing; your first draft is just that — a draft. Heck, even the second and third drafts may be works-in-progress. Once you’ve got all your ideas down clearly and accurately and you think you’re happy, take a figurative x-acto knife to your words. Is each word necessary? Is each word as strong as it can be? Does each word advance your point? Be hard on yourself. (Don’t cut out words or ideas just for editing’s sake, though — going too far can undermine your message and damage the flow of a post.)
  3. Double-check spelling and grammar. Last but not least, comb through your post for spelling errors, grammar missteps, and typos. You’ve got a proofreading tool built right into the post editor: click on the “ABC” icon to activate it, and get spelling and grammar fixes along with style suggestions. A caveat, though: we’ve all seen mistakes in computer-checked documents, so do a final read yourself. If you’re like me, a quick reader and prone to missing mistakes, reading your post out loud is a great way to catch lingering gaffes — you’ll hear the mistake (along with any clunky sentences that snuck past your x-acto knife). Having a friend with fresh eyes do a final review can also be a lifesaver.

If you can take a quick breather between each step, all the better; taking a break from your words makes it more likely that you can evaluate them critically on your return. If you don’t have time, no big deal. Simply paying more attention to each element of proofreading and copyediting will lead you toward stronger writing.

Do you have any tricks for tightening your writing and catching mistakes? Share, please!

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  1. Yes, there is actually a simple ‘trick’ (or routine) to write with (at least) fewer mistakes/problems for amendments later. It’s the “one-line drafting technique” (admittedly mostly used by lawyers). One sentence on its own during drafting – in other words, one sentence per paragraph. Around 20 to 25 words per sentence. Altogether, that makes things easier at the back end to reorganise the running order of paragraphs. It isn’t perfect, but at least it’s a routine to cut down the effort for back-end amendments later.

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  2. We all do it. However much I proof, I always change something once it is published.

    Was this spot the deliberate error by the way?

    Accuracy is about more that just verifying the spelling of an email address,

    And as thenakedlistnener says, I also do short pars and sentences. It’s not just used by lawyers. Journalists write even shorter sentences.

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  3. I try to do three writes per post whenever possible. A free flowing rough draft, a second draft where I really pay attention to flow and content, and a third draft for details. I try to do them on three separate days too.

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      1. When my posts are really long, I tend to make a lot of mistakes and typos. But, when I look back at them I catch them. Most of the time it is about the content.

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  4. I always, always hit “Preview” after every draft; I think it helps to see the post exactly as readers will read it. I often read the post aloud. That’s a good trick for catching awkward phrasing, misused words, etc. I see too many posts with outstanding content marred by errors that might have been caught in a careful proofreading. I’m guilty, too, of course! Thanks for the great tips.

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    1. Good tip — I also find that I catch more errors and am able to be a better editor when I read the post in previewed formatting than in the visual editor.

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      1. I was going to say reading aloud as well. Not only do I catch errors in grammar and spelling, but it helps my blog sound more like ME!

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      2. I find the preview very useful too. And usually I preview three or four times before I’m satisfied. Reading aloud is a great idea. You often catch awkward phrasing in the process. If I had the time I would like to take a print out because your eye misses stuff on the computer at times. Thanks everyone for the great tips!

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  5. Clicking the “preview” button helps me a lot. I can SEE the post the way my readers will see it on my blog. I proofread/edit with a preview of my post in another tab so I can go back and forth. Somehow, just changing the view allows me to catch little things that I might not have otherwise. 🙂

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  6. Preview and proof read is very important. Spelling mistakes and grammatical are normally a turn off for users reading your website. Especially when you post tips and tutorials. I also use the built in spell check in google chrome. Another tip would be to first write your post on MS office word or any similar application which will help you spell check and make grammar corrections and then copy-paste the text to your post. Formatting and inserting images can be done while posting.

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    1. We actually recommend not pasting from MS Word; it often brings in lots of hidden formatting that throws off the look of your posts and has to be hunted down in the HTML code. If you want to write offline, we’d recommend a plain text editor, like the Notepad application that comes with most computers. They may not offer spellchecking, but the proofreading feature in WordPress.com can take care of that.

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      1. Oh!! I didn’t know that. Btw, I always type directly on wordpress and then use proofread. I was just suggesting an alternative but didn’t know the hidden implications. Thanks for the heads up though.

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      2. Yes, it does! But if you paste the content in the “text” region of the blog none of the hidden formatting.

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      3. I use text edit (Apple) without formatting, and then move it across to WP. If I know what I want to emphasise I’ll use HTML coding in the draft text anyway, eg the del, blockquote, em and strong tags. I can also use lists on that.

        I don’t use visual. I don’t need to see the pix while I am working on the post, I just need to know they are there, which I can check with preview. I don’t use proofread or spellchecks. Not because I don’t need them but they don’t help when a word may be spelled correctly but is the wrong one for that sentence.

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      4. I use word and have no formatting problems. if your advocating not to use Word, why then in the the text box within the dashboard has the ability to use a button to paste word, which I have used and will continue to use?

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  7. OK- editing is not my best activity! Once upon a time I did a lot of technical writing and somewhere along the way was taught to read my material backwards. Yep, using a standard 12 inch ruler and beginning on the last line of my document and slowly reading toward the beginning improved my spelling and accuracy. Don’t ask I can not remember how or where I found that little jewel but it has saved me more then once. I discovered more miss-spelled words along with inaccurate citations of facts and dates. Yes, this does require printing the document as opposed to reading it digitally but it works for this old codger. Best of the day to you all and may your grammatical errors be insubstantial.

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    1. Working off a printed document — even if you decide to read it forward — can be *really* helpful. Following along with your trusty red pen makes finding errors much easier.

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    1. I write how I speak, I don’t proof read the way I speak, to be honest I don’t proof read very much, when I was studying I was called the comma king, but I qualified and even mention on how readable and enjoyable my essays were. So I say read and be dammed lol.

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  8. I use the proofread and preview buttons at least three times each. I hadn’t thought of reading my post aloud. I’m going to try it on my next one. Thanks for the tip. Emily

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  9. Definitely take a step back from it, even if it’s only for 30 minutes to an hour. I have often come back and found errors, but what I have noticed days, weeks, even months of being away from it I find simple mistakes.

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  10. How about – “Be as precise as possible”. One should try to express what has to be said with minimum words. The lesser you write, the lesser you make mistakes as well.

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  11. Some great tips, though I still manage to miss some.
    I saw a quote about proofreading any editing a few weeks ago, I don’t remember exactly what it was or who said it so I wonder if anyone here recognises it: ‘take out enough words so that it just about makes sense’. It was something along those lines, if anyone knows who said it I’d really appreciate it, it’s bugging me now.

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    1. Yes! You brain knows what you meant to say, and that’s what you see. It’s a real challenge to force yourself to see what’s really there; that’s part of why reading aloud can work so well.

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      1. In Final Draft scriptwriting program they have a feature – a voice that reads your script back to you. Mistakes are clearly heard when you click the feature. It would be great for writers to have that in a word processor program.

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  12. I always slowly read my post out loud to myself. And don’t forget that if you do find a spelling mistake or a word out of place after it is posted, you can go back and edit and make corrections.

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      1. Go back and improve, not really, when I write I believe that you write part of yourself, your identity, its like having a beauty spot or a birth mark, to remove it, you stop being you. The way you write is your identity, like brush stroke of a painter, or pencil marks of an artist. I did bring up this same issue with the grammar police were on the go, just because you write perfectly doesn’t make you a good writer.

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      2. It’s true, writing that’s grammatically correct isn’t necessarily compelling writing, and writers can certainly plan with grammar and structure to make a point. But writing that’s *not* grammatical is often more difficult to read, causing readers to check out. I think there’s definitely a balance to be found between good grammar and the identity of your words. (But, in the end, to each his/her own; there’s room in the blogosphere for everyone!)

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  13. I find that taking a day off before I hit publish helps a lot. Since I blog mostly poetry, that extra days helps to get my juices flowing again and it doesn’t feel like such a chore to edit the final piece. I also have a new perspective on the piece and can add and detract from it with less pain and grisly faces.

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  14. Taking time helps. Reading out loud is something I highly recommend, but be sure to read what’s there and the way you have it punctuated, not what you think you wrote or you’ll leave many of the mistakes in. Having a friend to bounce a post off is a great thing, too.

    janet

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  15. While I proofread each post several times, I never trust my judgement enough not to use what you mentioned at the end of your third point: ask a friend to look it over with fresh eyes. Usually I ask my girlfriend.
    For my group blog posts I take advantage of the other bloggers. Naturally our writing styles differ, so their input is much appreciated.

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  16. I always use “preview” and go back and forth quite often to edit. There have been times when I will save the new post without publishing and walk away for awhile. When I come back to it, I will find additional edits to make or spelling errors to fix.

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  17. Reading out loud is the most effective tool I’ve found for editing. Forming the words with your tongue requires that you pay attention to each one – your mind might skip things or fill in for you when you read silently, but reading aloud shows you those extra words or punctuation errors or gaps in your narrative. I’ve found reading to an audience, even of only one person, will make you even more conscious of your writing – whether you’re proud of it, or whether you start to realize “crap, this needs work,” when someone is right there in front of you, looking at you and listening.

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  18. Another thing I try to do is read my post aloud before hitting “publish” I’m very fortunate to have a “text to speech reader” that actually sounds like a real live human rather than Microsoft Sam 🙂

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  19. I find looking at the post in a different format helps me spot things that I’m skipping. I’ll change views so it looks different, and suddenly I see where there’s a misspelling or an awkward phrase.

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  20. I once proof – read my Homes’ Newsletter.

    Only to be told that I wouldn’t be asked to do it again because I was too pedantic, & that I noticed too many mistakes.

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  21. “If you’re anything like me, proofreading is the antithesis of writing, cruelly shunting you from an intuitive, creative flow to the much-less-fulfilling world of misplaced commas and accidental their/there/they’re confusion.” – Urgh! Yes. Editing. *Bangs head against wall* Damn editing, damn it to fire and brimstone and an eternity of overcooked poached eggs. Why can’t our thoughts just magically appear on our screens already perfectly woven, punctuated, and expressed? Why???

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    1. I have started to (somewhat) enjoy the process a bit more, if I think of it as giving my words a final detailing before publication. Thinking about editing as a craft unto itself helps dispel some of the tedium (although I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy straight-up proofreading).

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      1. Hmm, I like this idea of fine tune. But for me, the process of editing is akin to looking at myself in the mirror, and having an off day… but like, forever. Good ol’, general self-loathing. Why can’t you just let the written self be free from your malevolent stranglehold? *shakes fist*

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