If you have written anything before, whether essays, reports, fiction, articles, or any other form of writing, you will most likely have discovered the difficulties that come with proofreading your own work. Even if you have an impeccable knowledge of the English language, there is one pitfall that is almost impossible to avoid:
Our brain tricks us into seeing what should be there instead of what is there.
No matter how often we re-read our own writing, or how much distance (time) we place between ourselves and our work, sneaky, simple mistakes will almost always slip through the cracks. As an example, I wrote a short story where a character “threw her bag and keys on the table”. Or, that is what it was supposed to say. Despite multiple readings over a period of two months, I never picked up that it actually said “threw her back and keys on the table”, until someone else pointed the mistake out to me.
These sorts of errors slip easily past spelling and grammar checkers, and often only a fresh pair of eyes will find them. It is also small errors like this that can drag a reader out of the flow of the story, lessen the impact of your writing, and affect your professional image if you write for a living.
There are, however, a few tips and tricks that can help you pick up on as many of these pesky little mistakes as possible:
- Take as much time as possible between writing and proofreading your writing, so your work has become less familiar
- Read very slowly, or read out loud (or both)
- Re-read the work several times, focusing on a particular issue on each pass (punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.)
- Print out your work to proofread it
- Change the typeface, colour, size, and/or background to trick your brain into thinking you’re reading something new
- Take breaks, be well rested and as alert as possible
While all of these techniques can be useful, nothing really beats getting another person to proofread your work, if at all possible. Just to be safe.
Helpful Links for Proofreading Your Own Work:
Get Your Eagle Eye On: 10 Tips for Proofreading Your Own Work by Leah McClellan:
21 Proofreading and Editing Tips for Writers by Melissa Donovan: