Have you ever been afraid of editors thinking you haven’t proofread your piece, even when you definitely have?
Do you re-read your posts ad nauseam, only to still feel a sense of dread when sending your draft?
Yeah, proofreading isn’t fun.
Writing comes with a creative payoff. Editing gives you an authority edge. But proofreading? It’s tedious, boring and never feels like you’re doing it right.
The problem with proofreading is that we seldom look past grammar and spelling.
Sure, we read through guidelines and try to follow certain styles, but that’s about it. In fact, on a surface level, those do sound like the only things you could do.
Otherwise you’d just be aimlessly rewriting, no?
Well, what if I told you there’s another level — or five — to proofreading?
This might sound like we’re entering editing territory, but I promise you we aren’t. This deeper proofreading is still an incredibly contained system, meaning you won’t feel tempted to rewrite everything (as often happens when you edit your own work).
These five steps are genuinely quick and painless, but the payoff will be massive.
1. Hidden spelling and grammar mistakes
While we’re all fond of squiggly lines, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily reliable.
Word processors can miss language nuances, like a mix-up between “where” and “were” or “in” and “on.”
Catching these blunders is easier when you’re actively on the lookout for them.
Some recommend reading a post backwards. Others suggest reading the piece out loud (preferably the next day). Both are great moves. I’d also add running your post through multiple processors — maybe Word and Google Docs, for example.
In my experience, one spellchecker will often pick up what the other might have missed.
2. Unintended repetition
Repetitive adjectives, adverbs and even verbs are a commonly overlooked factor for writers.
This phenomenon isn’t as pervasive when the piece is short, and you’re writing it in one sitting. However, when you’re writing long-form or returning to a piece you started working on hours or days prior, you often forget your pre-existing arsenal of words.
You can start by using the “find” feature on Word or Google Docs (Command+F/Ctrl+F) to see how many times you’ve used a specific phrase.
The reader can tell when you use the same adjective. It makes them stop and question if they’re re-reading the same line or if you accidentally duplicated a paragraph. Your reader’s undivided attention could be just a synonym away.
3. Loss of voice
You know how they say reading is the best writing teacher (or something along those lines)?
I’m not saying you’ve been lied to, but I am saying that sometimes your favorite writer — or a motivating post — can creep their way into your writing. Inspiration can turn into mimicking, so make sure your writing retains its unique flow.
If you want a sort of measuring stick for loss of voice, try reading out loud a line from the beginning and a line from the end. Do they sound like they were written by the same person (you)?
If they do, compare to a line from the middle.
If they don’t match, don’t panic. All you have to do is re-read from start to finish. Trust me, you’ll be able to tell where it all went wrong.
4. Generic lines
A similar issue is relying on conventions of the genre. Be it a sci-fi novel, a post for a yoga blog or a poem for your lover: don’t fall prey to the siren’s call of clichés.
Not sure what I’m talking about?
Generic lines sound like everything you’ve ever read before. They usually contain buzz words and try to incorporate a lot of jargon. The problem is: they aren’t genuine, and usually don’t say a whole lot.
Nine times out of 10, all you have to do is pluck out these filler sentences. Removing them will not only alleviate your writing from the perils of inauthenticity, but will also make the finished product cleaner and more concise.
5. Run-on arguments
Nothing kills like overkill.
Every topic has a built-in stretch meter (AKA how long you can rant about it before running out of things to say). When you’re proofreading, double-check that you haven’t exceeded the mark.
Do your final paragraphs sound pretty much the same? Consolidate them into one.
You can also avoid rambling by assigning a specific detail or argument to each of your paragraphs. If you limit each sentence to their unique purpose, it’ll become that much harder for an idea to appear more than once.
Will these five steps make proofreading more fun? Not necessarily, but they will certainly give you a better command of your writing.
Although it’s unavoidable to miss a spot here and there, these tips will ensure you’re handing in your best work at all times.
Here’s to dreading the “submit” button a little less!