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How to Proofread: Tips & Tricks for Effective Proofreading

February 23, 2021 (Last Updated March 03, 2021)

Marcy G.

When you’re working on a book, you want it to be the best it can be, which is why proofreading is so important: it gives you a chance to catch every typo and error before it goes to print. There is nothing worse than receiving your printed book and finding a careless mistake, right there in black and white.

Correcting your manuscript after you’ve submitted it will cost money, and after printing, it’s too late. It’s better to proofread beforehand so you can catch everything you can.

If you struggle with proofreading, don’t despair. There are some tried-and-true tips you can use to learn how to proofread that are almost guaranteed to help you find your mistakes. Some of these proofreading tips are the same techniques that professional proofreaders and copy editors use in their own work.

Tips for proofreading

For effective proofreading, you need to disrupt your typical reading habits. Shaking up your reading routine will help you find errors you might otherwise skip over. Here are a few ways to do this:

Turn on spellcheck: Some people like to work without seeing those squiggly lines or believe they’re good enough spellers and don’t need it. But even if the spell checker only catches one mistake, it’s worth it. Turn on your software’s spelling check and grammar check functions. Also, consider using an online grammar checker, which can help you identify punctuation errors and usage mistakes.

Sleep on it: If you can, step away from the manuscript before you edit, preferably overnight. If you can spare a few more days, even better. When you come back to the work to proofread, you’ll view it with fresh eyes and it’ll be easier to notice if sentences make sense or contain any errors.

Slow down: The biggest tip for proofreading? Go slow. When you wrote the material, you knew what you were trying to say. It’s easy to lightly glance over each sentence because you know what it’s supposed to mean. Now, your job is to read it like someone who has never read this text before. Read slowly and carefully.

Print it out: It’s easy to leave your whole manuscript on your computer, but if you want to find every mistake, print it out — even if you just do it chapter by chapter. It’s proven that reading from a printed page helps your eyes notice mistakes. You’ll be surprised what you find using this tip.

Touch the text: Use your finger to track every word you read. You can also use a ruler, bookmark, or sheet of paper, to follow just one line of text at a time. This helps your mind focus only on the words at hand.

Move your lips: You can read quietly under your breath or out loud. Reading your words out loud will help you find missing words or incorrect spellings. If this makes you uncomfortable, try proofreading in a different room with the door closed — or pretend you’re narrating your audiobook!

Read from the bottom up: This technique helps you focus on each individual sentence to be sure it’s structured correctly. Begin at the bottom of the printed page and read each line or sentence, left to right, moving your way up to the top of the page. Your eyes must work overtime to make sure everything makes sense, helping you notice errors.

Enlist an assistant: Whenever you can, ask a friend to read for you. As you might have guessed, the name of the game in proofreading is “fresh eyes,” and having someone new read your words will often help catch things you missed.

How can I get better at proofreading?

If you want to improve your proofreading, be open to learning.

Know yourself: Start by paying attention to the mistakes that you are finding. Are you leaving out words? Are there frequent misspellings? Getting to know your own habits will help you learn what to watch for the next time you proofread.

Continue your education: Search for grammar and proofreading help on YouTube, where you can learn the ins and outs of language and proofing. You can also sign up for an online class or newsletter to learn more from experts, many of whom offer classes on improving your proofreading. And as always, there are books on proofreading you can consult that help you learn more about grammar, spelling, and usage.

Hire a mentor: If one-on-one is more your style, consider hiring a mentor or writing coach to help you improve your writing and proofreading. These experts live and breathe the English language and would love to help you learn to improve. They know the common pitfalls, but they can also tailor their help to your particular stumbling blocks.

Proofreading services for self-publishers

A terrific way to feel confident that you’ve corrected every typo is to hire an outside copy editor and proofreader. You should still proofread your own work initially, but the more eyes on a work, the better – especially a professional set of eyes. Hiring a professional proofreader is extra insurance that your work will be as clean and error-free as it possibly can be — and that will go a long way in producing a high-quality book.

At 48 Hour Books, we are happy to connect you with professional copy editors and proofreaders who can help you polish your book to perfection. View the book editing services offered on our resources page and browse proofreading services for self-publishers, including professional editors and proofreaders available for hire.

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Sign up for the 48 Hour Books newsletter to learn how to self-publish your book — and get it printed faster with us than anywhere else.

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