As a professional proofreader, I have occasionally been asked if I have any tips for catching errors or typos. Over the years, I have tried a number of different tricks to catch small mistakes, whether in my work or in someone else’s. These tips won’t necessarily help with content problems or even sentence-level issues with syntax, wording, or phrasing. They’re designed primarily for proofreading, when you’re reading a manuscript for the final time and trying to catch all of the tiny, easily-overlooked errors. Once you’re ready to proofread, how do you find those mistakes? Here are a few tips that will help you see your manuscript with fresh eyes:
- Set it aside
The longer you can set your work aside, the easier it will be to catch the errors. At this point, you’ve probably read it dozens of times, and you simply skip right over the mistakes without realizing. It’s best to set your manuscript aside for a time and return to it with fresh eyes, to ensure that you’re reading what’s actually on the page.
- Zoom in
Increasing the size of the type makes it much easier to see the smaller spelling and punctuation mistakes. It also forces you to read more slowly, which helps you to read more carefully.
- Change formatting and font
Try changing up the look of your manuscript in other ways as well, so that it looks like completely new material. Try using a different font, changing the spacing, adjusting the margins, or even formatting the pages to a more typical book size, like 6” x 9”. If you typically read on your computer, try printing a copy or using your ereader instead.
- Read it in a different location
Looking at your manuscript somewhere other than your writing desk or work space can also help you to see it as something new. Try reading on the sofa the same way you read a published novel, or sitting a coffee shop you don’t normally frequent.
- Have reference materials on hand
If you’re reading on a computer, it’s easy to do a quick Google search for words you aren’t sure how to spell. But if you’re reading a print copy away from your computer, make sure you have some kind of reference material on hand to check spelling and grammar issues you’re unsure of.
- Search for common misspellings
You can use Word’s “Find” feature to search your documents for words that you know you frequently misspell or use incorrectly, especially the ones that spellcheck is unlikely to catch. For example, if you know you sometimes type “your” instead of “you’re,” try searching for it and double-checking each usage.
- Read it out loud
Reading your text out loud forces you to slow down and read more carefully. Additionally, hearing the rhythm of your prose out loud can help you make stylistic decisions about punctuation—you need commas at the short pauses and period at the longer ones. You might also want to try an electronic text-to-speech option. (You can enable this function in MS Word by adding the “Speak” icon to the toolbar.)
8. Read it backward
Even if you’re using some of these methods, it’s still easy to get caught up in the content of what you’re reading instead of focusing on the text itself. From a story perspective, that’s a good thing–you want your reader to get caught up in the story instead of focusing on the grammar! But this also makes it difficult to proofread. By reading backward, from end to beginning, you can strip the text of its meaning and focus on the typos and misspellings.
Utilizing these tips should help you to see your manuscript with fresh eyes and catch the small mistakes. Having said that, I still recommend that anyone considering self-publishing their work hire a professional proofreader, since the author can only catch so many mistakes themselves (for more, see this post.) However, for writers hoping to polish up their manuscript before sending it to agents, editors, critique partners, or other readers, changing the way you read your manuscript can help you find all of those little typos.
Do you have any tips for catching typos? Are there any strategies I missed? Let me know in the comments!
Interested in professional proofreading or other editorial services for your manuscript? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.