As writers, we know that just because we’re done writing, doesn’t mean our work is ready to display to the world. After all your thoughts are down on paper, the process of proofreading and editing can begin. Many people assume editing and proofreading are interchangeable, but really they are two separate, and very important, steps in the writing process.
Editing your work consists of making sure your paragraphs flow smoothly, that your transitions work, and that the overall quality of the work is the best it can be. A successful edit will include clarification of anything that could be confusing or vague to the reader. Editing is also looking for places that are too wordy, unimportant or redundant. It also focuses on style, clarity and citations/references (if applicable.)
Although editing comes before proofreading, it’s always a good idea to step away from your text for a day or two before starting the editing process. Starting the edit too soon can be less effective because your brain is familiar with the content. For an even “fresher” perspective, give the finished product to a trusted writer friend who can read it for the first time. They can give you an honest review of what they think could be revised to make things a bit more clear. A few common editing tricks include:
- Change the size, color or font on your paper. This may help your brain see the content in a different way and bring any errors to your attention.
- Do your editing in a quiet place. Distractions can cause you to miss something, or make the editing process much longer than it needs to be.
- Do it in chunks. You’re more likely to miss something if you try to edit the whole thing at once. Break the editing into smaller sections so your eyes and brain are alert.
Proofreading is about finding surface errors, such as misspellings, grammar mistakes and punctuation errors. It is done at the very end of the revision process to ensure there are absolutely no errors in the text at all. Since editing makes sure the content is flawless, you don’t have to focus on that when you are proofreading. Tips for a great proofread include:
- Look for one error at a time. Read through the text and focus on misspellings, then read again and focus on punctuation.
- Don’t rely entirely on “checkers.” Although grammar and spell checkers are helpful, they don’t catch everything. Spell checkers only have a limited dictionary, and won’t catch an error like using “you’re” instead of “your” if the word is spelled correctly.
- Read out loud. When you read in your head, your brain already knows what the text is supposed to say because you’re the one who wrote it. When you read out loud, you really have to focus on what the words actually say, and not what you intended them to say.
- Print your work out. Once it’s printed, curl up with a marking pen and go at it. Scan each line to the end making edits as you go. Check for formatting. Are the page margins even? Do the paragraphs need to be justified? Actually holding the document in your hands can make new errors jump out, that you didn’t see on your computer.
- Circle or highlight every punctuation mark. Time consuming? Yes. Important? Very. This allows you to make sure every sentence ends in punctuation, and that it is in the correct form. This also helps you to combine short sentences together or get rid of run-ons.
Give your finished product to a few people once you’re absolutely sure it’s error-free. Encourage questions, feedback, and suggestions. If you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to hire an editor to look over your work as well. They can also educate you on why they are making the edits they are making, which can help you become a better editor and proofreader, which in turn will make you a better writer.