How Do You Proofread?


Last month I received the advance reader copy of my novel, WENDIGO, slated for release on July 17 (or earlier depending on what Amazon does–more on that in a future blog) as well as the .pdf file for me to proofread. I had already done the editor revision and a ton of rewrites (I actually started the novel in 1989) and therefore thought I had a pretty tight manuscript. However, I decided to proofread the .pdf file anyhow. Am I ever glad that I did. What I thought was a fine-tuned manuscript turned out to be anything but. This led me to dig into my files for some notes that I made several years ago. I was working on SNIPER, my first novel to be published and had started to proofread it. I thought that I had submitted a highly polished manuscript and was surprised when the editor sent back her recommended revisions. The editor and I discussed what had happened and why I overlooked so many errors when I had proofed it myself. The feedback I received was eye-opening. What I thought was proofreading was in fact, revising.

Revising includes checking each paragraph to make sure your introductory paragraph is engaging and well-written, your concluding paragraph reinforces the purpose of your story or topic, and each body paragraph presents clear information about each aspect of your topic or story. Revise wordiness, cliches, and tautologies. On the other hand, proofreading your text is done after you’ve revised it.

Jeremiah Healy. May 1948 – August 2014

Once you’ve completed your revision process take a break, sleep on it, and return to your text with fresh eyes. Jeremiah Healy once told me that after he finished a novel, he printed hard copy, and set it aside for six weeks before proofing. He believed it took at least that long for your brain to forget what you meant to write. If you begin the process too early, your brain will read what it knows you meant rather than what your eyes tell it you actually wrote. Here is the process that he recommended and that I, for the most part, use.

The Proofreading Process

  1. The best way to proofread your text is to print it out. If you decide to proofread on a computer (a process I am unable to do), copy and paste each sentence separately on a fresh word document.
  2. Check your text for grammar and spelling mistakes.
  3. To prevent yourself from thinking about your story or topic while proofreading, read your text out loud slowly. This process will help you to focus on the words and punctuation.
  4. Do not read paragraphs in chronological order. Start with the fourth paragraph, for example, then move to the sixth, the second, the first, the fifth, and the third.
  5. Use a ruler or blank piece of paper to guide your reading. Working in this manner will help you to concentrate on the sentence structure and words. Place the ruler or blank piece of paper below each sentence as you read. Identify and correct punctuation and sentence structure mistakes.
  6. Track your writing errors by making a list of them in your notebook. If you find a sentence with mistakes in it or a misspelled word, write it down in full in your notebook. Write the correct version next to it. Note your writing mistakes. As you compile them you will identify patterns. Note the patterns. They will give you clues to the types of mistakes you repeat when writing.
  7. Proofreading your text will help you to address typos, mixed constructions, run-on sentences, comma splices, sentence fragments, verb errors, pronoun errors, faulty parallelism, and problems with modifiers. After you complete your proofreading process format your document to meet publishing requirements.

Wendigo: Coming July 2017

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13 Responses to How Do You Proofread?

  1. Good info, Vaughn. One more tip: read it aloud from the end forward.

  2. Peter Murray says:

    Thanks. A very timely post.

  3. Kate Flora says:

    Whew! I have a slightly different process, because I am either a) lazy or b) cannot see the forest or the trees after six revisions, so I give it careful and picky friends, who then send me edits that make it clear I should never have been allowed out of sixth grade, never mind into the fellowship of authors.

    I so admire you for doing this.


  4. Lots of good advice, Vaughn.

  5. Lea Wait says:

    All true, Vaughn! One additional suggestion: read the whole (yes, the whole) manuscript out loud. Amazing what you see!

  6. Sennebec says:

    Excellent suggestions.

  7. Sandra Neily says:

    That was so helpful! Esp the ruler tip and skipping around. Thanks so much for taking the time to detail your help.

  8. You are very welcome, Sandra. Good luck with your writing.

  9. Dave Carew says:

    I would have added a comma after “process” in your final sentence. It would have made the sentence clearer. Sorry … I’m an editor! 🙂

    Dave Carew
    Freelance Book Editor / Book Proposal Writer
    Winslow, Maine

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