How to Prepare to be Edited: Proofread Your Own Work
Proofreading your own work. This is very, very difficult to do. Writing requires that you know your subject inside and out. You have to be the absolute expert. You have written; you've revised; you've put everything you can think of on a page; so you know what should be there. If you wanna catch your own errors, you should try and make your work as unfamiliar as possible. This is not easy to do. Depending on how much time you have, we'll break these into quick tips, things that you can spend if you have a little more time, and a deeper review, but all of them are focused on getting as much distance as you can between yourself and what you've put on the page. Your brain, in its attempt to be helpful, is going to fill in these gaps, and it's gonna see what you meant to say, not what you actually said, which is not helpful at all for proofreading, so we have to trick it. We have to say, "This is some new; I didn't write this. "Don't speak up." We're gonna talk about quick tips we can use.
It starts with silence and quiet and movement. Turn off your phone; even put it in a separate room. Having my phone close to me has my brain just kinda wondering, "Did anything happen? "Notification? An email?" Separate yourself from it. Next, find a quiet space. It can be just a corner of a coffee shop that's got a little less chatter. It can be your bedroom. It could be anywhere where you have a moment of quiet. Remove yourself from anything that could be a distraction. I have the cutest puppies, I call them my assistants, and as soon as I sit down to high focus work, there's a paw, they need a cookie, or they have to go outside, and it's just not gonna work. High focus work, like proofreading yourself, means you have to be physically removed from these distractions. A lot of people, myself included, actually use background noise to write. It's one of those things where it helps block out interrupting thoughts, and it can keep you focused, but it's gonna be a hindrance when we're proofreading our own work, so if you leave the TV on low, if you have a Spotify channel you love, turn them off. We need quiet. We've set the stage, have these tips, now this is, for me, the single most effective way to create that distance. Take a break. I love this quote because it includes the word unplug. Very often, we'll consider taking a break as leaving the work, and then you check your Facebook, or you reply to a LinkedIn message, or you go watch a moment of TV, and none of these are actually you unplugging. You're still processing things. That's not getting the space you need. If you can, get up, take a walk, go outside, even just get up from your desk and stretch and move your body. It's gonna get you prepared to have the space between what you're looking at and what your brain is actually wanting you to see. The next is to read it aloud. This is a good one. You can actually use text-to-speech functions built into Word and programs, and it'll read it for you. If you're doing it yourself, either way, it's gonna assess the feeling of the writing. When it is on the page, and you're reading it in your head, you don't hear the rhythm, the flow, and the pacing; you don't hear how lyrical it is or how choppy it is. It's very effective for evaluating the length of a sentence. Is it too long? Is it too short? Are you writing a piece, and all of a sudden, you're jarred to a stop, or the sentence is so long you kind of forgot what was at the beginning of it? It reveals possible weaknesses. This is fantastic for highlighting repetition. If you've said the same word three or four times in a couple of lines, this'll find it. When you're writing, they can be some words that you love and even crutch words, and you won't see them on the page, but you'll hear them, and your ear will pick them up. Unnecessary words or sections, fragments, abrupt endings, anything that's jarring, jumps out very well when you're listening to the piece. This one requires a little bit more patience. It's a bit of a different read, but it's fantastic for especially homophone errors, which you're not gonna get when you're reading aloud. If you wrote knew instead of new, or to instead of too, you're not gonna hear that on the review, but you'll see it. These are ones, actually, that your brain is fantastic at tricking you at. They're like, "Ah, that's right. Keep going." Reading it line by line and reading it backwards breaks the text down into small manageable pieces, and it cuts it off from the whole, so you can only focus on that point. It's a macro, a micro level, not a macro level, so it's fantastic for these little misspelled articles or repeated words. Your brain is stellar at not seeing the twice. You'll be surprised how many times that pops up. This one I love just because it's fun and it's easy and it's fast. Change the visuals. I actually wrote a post about resources for writers, and if you haven't looked it up yet, it's on our page, on the Creative Live page. I put some errors into it for this. A quick review. Okay, we can see we meant write instead of right. That's the incorrect use of they're. Incorrect use of too. We did a good job; we've caught some errors. It's already better than it was. Let's see how different it looks if we just change a few things. We changed where the lines end. We've done a sans serif font instead of a serif font. We've added spaces, so we can see that our line breaks have changed. Things that weren't easy to see before all of a sudden pop out at you, and you've already done a little bit better, just by changing the way the document looks. Again, it's about tricking your brain; it's making it think it's fresh and it's new. We know it's not, but as long as our brain thinks it is. All right, so if we've got more time, let's take that time. Subject/verb agreements are areas that get a little bit sticky. They're errors that usually hold up the reader, especially when we have situations like the coach, and her players, when we've separated them, and the verb and the subject aren't together, or when we have a collective noun. Collective nouns are referred to with singular verbs, but very often, it feels like it should have a plural verb. Going through and verifying we have, in fact, used the correct subject with the correct verb. While we're talking about verbs, don't bury it. Keep it to the front. She made the decision. No, she decided. The executives had a discussion. No, they discussed; keep the action in the front. Not only will it tighten up your sentence, it engages the reader more, it draws them in. Once you have buried the verb so far back, it's easy to get distracted and distanced. Keep the verb upfront, right where it should be. Ah, commas. (laughter) Everyone loves commas. I'm sure all of you know about the serial or Oxford comma. It is the final comma in a list. I'm actually, I don't have a side in this battle. You can use it, you can not use it, when I write, I don't use it, when I edit, I put it in, if it's requested by the style guide. Either way, it's completely fine. Just be consistent. There are small instances where the use of this, without the use of the serial comma, there can be confusion, so watch out for those, but as long as you are consistent, you'll be all right. We know we fed the dogs, cats, and birds. We know we visited the park, the museum, the zoo. Comma splice. This is basically when a comma is trying to be a period, a conjunction, or a semicolon. These are actually kind of hard to see sometimes because we treat the comma as a pause, and it feels okay, if you read it out loud because there is a pause before you move on. These are ones that you have to stop and take a little time and be is this actually correct? Do these two need to stand alone? Are they tying this together? It's just as easy to fix. Since you're trying to use a semicolon or period or a conjunction, use a semicolon, a period, or a conjunction, and they swap right in, and your comma splice is gone. They sound scarier than they are. We've got some common spelling errors. One of the things I like to do is to build a list. These are things that they're kind of hard to check with an oral reading, they're kind of hard to check when you do line by line because they're close, but they're not quite wrong, so if you create a list of common errors and which ones should be used in which situation, it'll save you so much time. If you're using than to compare or then for time, further versus farther, I.E. or E.G.? Do you mean in essence, or are you giving an example? Also, people. People are who; things are that. Now, interestingly enough, if you have a dog without a name, it's a that, but if you have a dog with a name, it's a who. My assistant proofreader ran away, that crazy dog, or my dog, Danger, is fantastic. I love how he is; those are who's. Of, this is a tricky oral one because the abbreviated form, should've, should have, would've, when we same them aloud, we say an of sound. Sometimes when they're written out, we'll end up with should of instead of should have. Yeah (laughs). Same thing, complement, compliment. Things that are just very easy to be mistaken for something that's very similar. Putting together a list of what they are and checking for them separately saves a ton of time and energy. Are you assuring, ensuring, or insuring something? Then incomplete comparisons. Usually, it's pretty clear what we're meaning to imply, but it's always better to actually have the comparison be complete. This new car is faster. Than what? Than another car? Than your old model? Have a comparison that makes a complete statement. Facts checking; fact checking is always important. Maybe even more so now, we need to make sure everything we put together is as correct as we can make it. Is everything cited correctly? Do you have the original source, and is this original author? It's actually very easy to manipulate photos, so I would always recommend, if you are using a photo in any kind of piece, do a Google search by image, and you'll be able to find if what you found is actually true, and the original image, or if it's been manipulated in any way. Search and search again. The first information you find is not always the most accurate information. Then, verify it against fact-checking sites. I'm sure we've all gone to Snopes and said, "Really? Is that true, or not?" Verify you have the correct information from the correct source, and it's been validated. All right. Deeper review. We've tightened up some sentences. We've taken a break. We're gonna read it as the intended audience. Just take a second and put yourself in the position, mindset, and point of view of your reader. If they sit down and they see a piece entitled whatever you've put before it, what do you think they're hoping to get from your writing? Read it through and see if what they expect should happen actually happens. Don't think about what you wanna say. Think about what they need to hear. If you find yourself reading the piece as your intended audience, and thinking, "Oh, I know I said that earlier," but maybe you didn't, go back, review, try and be as settled into your intended reader's viewpoint as you can. There's actually a fun exercise where I like to imagine going through part of their day. Maybe you're writing an article for someone or even just an email, and you're putting it together, oh, it's going to the director of finance, what's their day like? Okay, they had this meeting, they're worried about this, they sit down, they see my email, what are they gonna wanna see? They're not gonna wanna see my paragraph-long explanation of how I've improved quarterly reports. They're gonna say, "Short, succinct, and direct." any time you have the chance to read it as your intended audience, it provides a unique insight. Then, this will help evaluate if the goal is achieved. Why did you write this piece? What were you hoping for this piece to accomplish? Write down any questions that should be answered, any emotions, any feelings you wanna convey, and if you don't know those, that's okay, but if you have any in mind, put them down, and then go through and determine if they've been addressed. If you felt like you're writing a piece about personal discovery, and you get to the end, did the character or did the reader actually get to that point?