Monday, October 11, 2010

Tips to Mend the Errors of Your Ways

"Never proofread your own work." - Master Gunnery Sergeant Frank Castaneda

The wise Master Gunny I once worked for wasn't the first to offer this advice, nor will he be the last.  It's hard to spot errors when you're too close to the work, and your brain only muddles the effort by putting misspelled or misused words into context, causing you to miss typographical errors.

Writers often toil in solitude and under deadline, so it isn't always possible to have someone else proofread your work.  If you must proofread your own writing, try these tips to minimize mistakes:

1.  Use the spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program – but don't rely solely on them!  These programs have limited dictionaries, and they won't highlight a correctly spelled word used improperly (such as 'their' instead of 'there').  They also can't tell you when words are missing altogether unless the omission triggers a bad grammar alert.

2.  Set aside your writing for at least an hour, and preferably a day or more.  Give your brain a break, and reread the piece with a fresh perspective.

3.  Print the document.  Typos and other errors are usually easier to spot on paper than on the computer screen.

4.  Allow yourself quiet time, free of distractions, to concentrate on proofreading.

5.  Read the work aloud.  Make sure you pronounce each word, and don't hurry.

6.  Read it backwards, starting with the last word of the last sentence.  Work your way to the beginning.

7.  Always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand – and use them!

If you have the luxury of another set of eyes to review your writing, make sure that set of eyes is competent in spelling and grammar.  You want to present your best work to the world, and you can't do that if your proofreader doesn't have a grip on the language.

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